‘What kind of bird are you?’, a review of Moonrise Kingdom

The love story about two estranged children. Moonrise Kingdom stars Bruce Willis, Ed Norton and Bill Murray with two debut performances from Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman.

I’ve long admired Wes Anderson’s visual boldness and defiant attitude to adversity. He found a style that suited him and has hardly changed that since. He’s been making films which he would like to see, regardless of what anyone else thinks. With Moonrise Kingdom, his 7th film, he turns his symmetry obsessed eye to Camp Ivanhoe, and to New Penzance Island. Anderson is a filmmaker who puts peculiar characters in a world that looks as though it was drawn by Quentin Blake, and his writing style derives more from J.D. Salinger than any filmmaker – it’s essentially as good as intertextual middle class cinema gets. Yet often in his films there is often something immediately accessible to any audience unfamiliar with his work, with Moonrise Kingdom possibly being his most accessible to date and his best live action film since Rushmore. In this case, it is two lonely children in two dysfunctional families. When Boy Scout Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) goes AWOL, his foster parents are quick to disown him. Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis), a lonely police officer, and Scout Master Randy Ward (Ed Norton) go searching for him, but where could he be? The answer is travelling around the island with one Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward) in what is basically the most spontaneously planned but professionally executed runaway from home ever. It’s the sort of romantic adventure that Suzy only read about in her fantasy books, and is now living. With social services, the police and scouts all closing in on them, there’s one big problem: a horrendous storm is heading the island’s way in, as the amazingly dressed Narrator informs us…

For all his critics say about him, it has to be said that Wes Anderson is one of the best American directors at widescreen, making the most of the entire 16:9 ratio. Whether it’s neatly organised layers of background action, obscurely framed close ups or beautiful landscapes, Robert D. Yeoman’s cinematography gives a constant feeling of visual width and complexity. It also manages to be one of this year’s few films which really gets the second half right. Asides from some dodgy Kar2ouche-esque CGI, Anderson manages to quicken the pace of the film without losing any of it’s charm, and it’s not until the superb finale that you realise how much it’s quietly got under your skin. Bruce Willis has featured in some fairly awful films over the last decade, but I enjoyed his performance as the yearning Captain Scott especially when he was placed in a scene with his crush, Suzy’s mother (played by Frances McDormand). They’re both a bit run down by love, and their attempt at an affair simply fizzles away back into their monotonous lives, at the same time cleverly placed parallel to Sam and Suzy’s blossoming romance. But it’s the two child actors who really stand out here, stealing the spotlight from the veteran ensemble. At their best, they both emanate a certain mature charm from each of their characters, which is perhaps why some have called Moonrise Kingdom a young love story for adults. Of course, the film’s best moments are when it captures this love between the kids, with sparks quite literally flying between them. Yet some characters feel as though they had more to say, with Tilda Swinton’s cape-swishing social service worker in particular not quite explored enough to make her the fully realized character she could’ve been.

Anderson’s eclectic music choices may alienate some audiences, with others finding his meticulous style offputting, but if you go into Moonrise Kingdom with an open mind you’re sure to fall at least a little bit for this earnest comedy romance.

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