The staple ingredients of a Wes Anderson film include: an ensemble cast replete with oddly attired eccentrics and thoughtful loners; a laid back journey of self-discovery and reconciliation; an offbeat, sometimes anarchic, sense of humour; impeccable direction, each shot lovingly composed. It’s a winning formula which somehow never becomes formulaic, and Moonrise Kingdom is perhaps the most satisfying Anderson concoction so far.
On the idyllic fictional New England island of New Penzance in the summer of 1965, two young lovers, twelve-year-old Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) and Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward) kick up a storm when they run away together. A search party is soon formed, and before long everyone on the island is caught up in the chase. It’s a sweet premise told beautifully, with something Ealing-esque in the whimsical pacing and endearing characters, all of which are distinct and appealing no matter how small the role.
Of course, it helps having such a stellar cast on board – Anderson is never short of talented actors eager to work with him – including regular collaborator Bill Murray and Francis McDormand as Suzy’s increasingly estranged parents, Bruce Willis as the bachelor police captain all too aware of his limitations, and Edward Norton, whose performance as Scout Master Randy Ward is a perfectly balanced mix of comedy and pathos; the grown man barely suppressing the young boy still trapped within.
As entertaining as the adults are, though, Moonrise Kingdom‘s focus is on childhood, and it is the young actors, particularly the leads, who stand out and make up the heart of the film. Sam and Suzy may well be precocious but they also capture something of the essence of childhood disaffection and alienation, preferring to elope from society into the freedom of the natural world where the possibilities – at least through their young eyes – are endless. Their rejection of the “unfair” world of adults is something any viewer, no matter how jaded, is likely to have a nostalgic recollection of, and Wes Anderson and co-writer Roman Coppola’s crisp, witty dialogue is endearing and heartfelt.
It would be very easy on paper for a film like Moonrise Kingdom to sink into a mire of maudlin sentimentality, but Wes Anderson is not “Hollywood” and his sense of refinement and overarching ability to craft each scene as if every one were one of those great “cinema moments” elevates the film’s status towards something of a minor masterpiece, deserving of a place in the pantheon of “great movies about childhood”.