Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

When a pair of pre-pubescent pen-pals flee their Khaki Scout cohorts and maladjusted family respectively, Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) and Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward) head for a distant cove of New Penzance so that they can begin a life together. Their absence does not go unnoticed, however, and soon they have the rest of the island on their tail. As Scout Master Randy Ward (Edward Norton) rallies his troop and Walt (Bill Murray) and Laura Bishop (Frances McDormand) recruit the services of Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis), Sam and Suzy find their future together under threat by an inappreciative adult world.

So here’s the thing: I do admire Wes Anderson. Honestly I do. In a season charged with increasingly homogenised product – 3D children’s animations, superhero movies and a recent tendency towards ‘edgy’ romantic comedies – it’s nice to know that there are still those directors ambitious enough to produce a film like Moonrise Kingdom: something so unashamedly creator-driven that it makes few allowances for the wider cinemagoing public. It’s just a pity that I don’t particularly like Wes Anderson.

However much I might have disliked 2009’s Fantastic Mr. Fox (to me there was little difference between Michael Bay callously sexualising Transformers for an older audience and Anderson turning Roald Dahl’s children’s classic into an existential vehicle aimed almost exclusively at his extant following), in many ways it appeared as though the director – himself a master-puppeteer – had finally found his forte. Stop-motion animation gave Anderson total control over his film; the sets, characters and dialogue trailered to his unique vision without such pesky confounding variables as the likeability of his cast. In this respect Moonrise Kingdom feels somewhat like a step backwards.

Anderson’s idiosyncratic style is evident from the opening shot, which pans around an elaborately structured, would-be dollhouse to introduce us to the Bishop family. At least, that’s what the shot should have done. As it is, we are instead taken on a grand tour of the impeccably furnished set, the camera pausing intermittently to showcase each individual room as if each were an end in and of itself. There isn’t a frame in Moonrise Kingdom that couldn’t be shown off and displayed on some pristine wall for the deliberation of prissy art critics – and whether it’s a row of identical tents, a preposterous tree house or some other celebration of symmetry and imagination, Wes Anderson is determined to have us appreciate it.

These illustrious sets are once more populated by the same eccentric characters and silly situations that have haunted Anderson’s films throughout his career. Childish adults and sage children make up most of the ensemble, as an inexplicable local (Bob Balaban as Narrator) pops up on occasion to urge the plot along whenever Anderson becomes too bogged down in character quirks (a pair of infernal binoculars) and droll dialogue (He does water colors. Mostly landscapes, but a few nudes). Everyone is too detached to make much of an emotional impact, however, with the star-studded cast getting by on proficiency rather than poignancy – or, indeed,  much personality at all. You might not even realise Bill Murray is in it.

As for the children embarking on their long-planned odyssey together, the results are more organised fun than wild rumpus. A few touching moments aside (Sam’s rapport with Bruce Willis’ policeman is surprisingly moving), very little resonates about their weekend of whimsical wish-fulfilment, any spontaneity lost in yet another elaborate, attention-grabbing tracking shot or manicured backdrop, marred only by a shaky hand or unfortunate frown. Hayward ultimately fares better than Gilman, it must be said, the latter’s relatively inexperienced vocal aparatus struggling at times to keep up with the demands of Anderson’s indulgent and self-concious script, inevitably detracting from what could otherwise have been a perfectly serviceable performance. Disengaging stuff indeed.

The film does pick up in its final act, largely thanks to the introduction of Tilda Swinton’s career-defined Social Services, who finally introduces some dramatic oomph into proceedings as she threatens an unruly Sam with – of all things – ECT. There is also occasional fun to be had with some of the film’s more surrealist elements, including a sequence which sees Sam (and Suzy) confronted by his bullies from Scouts and a race to be wed in which Sam is inexplicably struck by lightning. For the most part, however, Moonrise Kingdom is another example of style over substance, its characters proving no match for the laboured cinematography, busy score and mustard typeface.

Moonrise Kingdom, then, is a visual delight, each new scene a triumph in staging and period detail that marks this out as quintessentially Wes Anderson. Overall, however, the film’s technical proficiency outshines its story, the human element failing to make as much of an impression as the sets and costumes. That is, of course, unless you are already a Wes Anderson admirer, in which case this is just more of the same, for better or worse.


About popcornaddiction
I am a psychology graduate, a News Writer for HeyUGuys/BestforFilm and, most importantly, a hopeless popcorn addict.

One Response to Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

  1. Pingback: May 2012 – It appears to be some sort of cake « popcornaddict

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: