Director: Wes Anderson
Cast: Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, Frances McDormand, Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman
Watch Moonrise Kingdom online in the UK: Amazon Prime / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / iTunes / Google Play
“Dear Sam. Where?” “Dear Suzy. When?”
That’s how Sam and Suzy arrange to run away together. By hand-written letters from opposite sides of a remote island.
He, a bullied Khaki Scout who sets fires to things while sleepwalking; she, a troubled child with violent tendencies and a lot of eyeshadow. Alienated by uncomprehending families and friends, they plan to survive on their own in the woods.
Fortunately, they’re well equipped. Sam has his Scout skills. Suzy has binoculars. Plus they have a torch, a toothbrush, a Davey Crocket hat, a frying pan, an air gun, a suitcase full of books – and Benjamin Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra.
It’s an affair that starts off surreally but with a recognisable precision: Wes Anderson’s careful composition can be seen from the very first shots, where a camera tracks through Suzy’s doll house-like home, whip panning between rooms as the kids read books and parents Walt (Murray) and Laura (McDormand) silently sit in separate parts of the house. Over the top, Benjamin Britten introduces oboes and bassoons with aplomb.
It’s a simple sequence, full of bright colours and stale sadness. This juxtaposition is what lends Anderson’s latest such a striking tone. The director’s whimsy is present, as is the wit, but his ironic detachment is swept away by a heady romantic buzz.
When Sam is found missing from his tent, Scout Master Ward (a deliciously sad Edward Norton) instantly rallies the troops, his priorities clear. “Remember,” he barks, “this isn’t just a rescue mission. It’s an opportunity for some first class scouting.” It’s not long until Police Captain Sharp a wonderfully understated Bruce Willis, wearing a pained expression) helps out with the manhunt. He’s equally incompetent.
Of course, Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman (both effortless newcomers) couldn’t care less about the palaver they’ve left behind. They’re too caught up in their adventure – and we are too. From the carefully co-ordinated costumes to the vivid set design (everyone’s clothes match their surroundings), Anderson paints a world that manages to be fantastical and full of real pathos at the same time.
Every few minutes, narrator Bob Balaban turns up in Team Zissou-like attire to warn us of the violent storm about to hit the island – a portent that climaxes in an absurdly perfect set piece of chaos.
“My daughter has been captured by one of your beige idiots!” yells Walt at the inept Scout Master. That’s before Social Services (Tilda Swinton) turns up. In the meantime, the adults flap their arms and squawk barmy lines of dialogue at each other. It’s one big pathetic fallacy in which everyone is pathetic and talks in fallacies.
But as meaningless as everything is, it all carries a huge philosophical significance. “You’d all be better off without me,” laments Walt, lying awake in bed. The kids are even more melodramatic. Sam, in particular, sounds increasingly like Craig Roberts in Submarine – who, in turn, owes much to Max in Rushmore. In fact, the whole of Moonrise Kingdom feels like the end of Rushmore, when Max makes schoolchildren earnestly reenact Platoon on stage. Everything could be taking place within that tiny production, hidden behind the cardboard cutout of a tree.
And that’s what makes Moonrise Kingdom so deliriously lovely: Anderson’s wry adult humour is there but it’s fused with a giddy appreciation of adolescence. It’s like Fantastic Mr. Fox, but for adults. People even get struck by lightning.
Watch all of the end credits and you’ll hear Jared Gilman imitate Britten, dissecting Alexandre Desplat’s playful score and naming each instrument. Do the same to the movie and Anderson’s usual elements are there, but the parts are assembled with a consistency that he hasn’t achieved since The Life Aquatic. Moonrise Kingdom is hilariously daft, amiably warm, gorgeously colourful and generally all-round awwwwwwww.
Moonrise Kingdom is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription.
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