Moonrise Kingdom: A Review

Moonrise Kingdom – Dir: Wes Anderson; *ing: Bruce Willis, Frances McDormand, Edward Norton, Tilda Swindon, Kara Hayward, Jared Gilman, and Bill Murray

 Where there’s a whim, there’s a way

 As school-going tykes, we were asked to write an essay on which futuristic inventions we wished existed, and we came up with the usual suspects – time machines, invisibility pills, teleportation devices, and other items obviously nicked from the world of the movies. Today, if one were tasked with something similar, top of the list would definitely be a machine that lets you look inside the mind of Hollywood oddity, Wes Anderson, a filmmaker with a style and vision so unique, so (non-preciously) quirky, that one imagines a single peek into his noodle would be far better and more rewarding than a year’s worth of trysts with hallucinogens. Yet, what sets him apart from his fellow oddballs such as David Lynch, Darren Aronofsky, Richard Kelly etc., is the life-affirming gentleness of his work, the pure and unapologetic lack of cynicism. His characters may be dead-pan but never sardonic, which keeps them from being rendered opaque; they command our affection and comprehension no matter how improbable (though never quite impossible) they and their situations might become. Likewise, Anderson’s primary colour-infused imagery is painstakingly beautiful, but never unbelievable; we know it’s fantasy but also real enough to be achingly tangible. One could say that he’s the Norman Rockwell of a new-age cinema. And what of his latest film, Moonrise Kingdom, a sweet, funny, yet melancholic tale of young love, loneliness, and resignation to ennui, that has shades of both Anderson’s own earlier work, as well as a kinder, gentler, more fablesque Lord of the Flies.

The film begins with a series of masterful tracking shots as we are led into the New England home, circa 1965, of the Bishops: father (Murray), mother (McDormand), three little boys, and daughter Suzy (Hayward), a sad-eyed adolescent, forever looking through her binoculars at possibilities of other lives, pooled together from the fantasy fiction she incessantly reads. It’s a home of material comfort and beauty, but one that also emits an absence of familial warmth and happiness. Indeed, Mr. Bishop seems to exist in a separate dimension, while Mrs. Bishop communicates with her family through a megaphone. Then one day, Suzy runs away from home. Her destination? Scrawny, bespectacled Khaki Scout Sam Shakusky (Gilman), orphan and outcast, also on the run from his camp, run by earnest but befuddled scout master Ward (Norton). Pen pals and paramours for a year, the two now wish to carve out a picaresque existence in a remote picture-perfect cove they christen Moonrise Kingdom, away from the dull responsibilities and non-events of pre-teen life. But that’s not a desire easily understood by the adults involved, who launch a search-and-rescue/apprehend mission, even as lonely town sheriff Captain Sharp (Willis) begins to sympathise with the pair.

Anderson’s team of actors does him proud, with nary a sour note struck anywhere. The two kids, newcomers both, display none of the cloying precociousness that child actors are usually required to summon forth, and the story’s the richer for it. Willis exudes a bemused sadness that’s as touching as the way McDormand and Anderson-regular Murray subtly play the intricacies of the older couple’s stricken relationship. And of course, the director does his bit to keep the rest of the proceedings just as engaging. Here, as in with his other films like Rushmore, The Royal Tennenbaums, and particularly, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, Anderson explores further his signature cinematic vocabulary – not so much magical realism but whimsical realism – with which he creates a tragicomic world of near-oneiric charm, populated by characters who are at once daft and delightful. And if there is more than a hint of sepia-tinted nostalgia at work, it can be attributed not just to the period setting, but also, one can conjecture, to the filmmaker’s contention that tenderness and a certain faith in innocence is still possible in today’s world, and that it’s okay for a film to wear its big ol’ heart on its sleeve.

Cult: Harold and Maude (1971) – Anderson shares some things in common with another Hollywood dreamer, Hal Ashby, who directed this darkly comic tale of love blossoming between a suicidal teen and an ebullient septuagenarian Holocaust survivor.

Current: Hyde Park on Hudson – Murray stars as Franklin Roosevelt in this little-seen film about FDR’s brief romance with his distant cousin Margaret Stuckley, directed by Notting Hill helmer, Roger Michell.

Coming Attraction: The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) – Anderson will team with Murray again for his next project, described only (and enticingly) as ‘a European story.’

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