The trouble with Wes Anderson’s films is finding somewhere to see them. Seemingly none of the cinemas in Kent were showing Moonrise Kingdom, so bizarrely I ended up watching it in Staines, the same Staines which last week changed its name to Staines-Upon-Thames in an effort to repair some of the damage done to its reputation by Ali G (expect Kazakhstan-upon-Thames shortly). I felt that perhaps screening Moonrise Kingdom might be part of the same initiative, mainly because I was the only person in the bloody cinema. One of the guys who worked there came in just before the film began, ostensibly to stare at me. I awkwardly made a joke about it being a popular choice, he continued to stare at me, disgusted.
The film is set on New Penzance Island, USA, in 1965. An old man with a smiley face and a lovely red coat tells us that a storm will hit the island in three days. The storm provides a good source of narrative tension to frame the story, but little is done to maintain the tension between the first mention and the storm’s arrival. The intervening story centres on Sam and Suzy, two 12 year-olds who decide to run away together. On their tail are Suzy’s irate parents, the island policeman and Sam’s scout troupe, which gives the whole adventure the feel of a man-on-the-run thriller complete with showdowns, captures and daring rescues. The film is of course stylized in a typically beautiful Wes Anderson manner, plenty of primary colours, soft lenses and perfectly judged wardrobe, somehow even the tents look cool.
Willis is shockingly convincing as a sad and lonely yet wise and caring old bachelor.
A healthy number of Anderson regulars are in attendance, Bill Murray deserves a special mention for his hilarious and touching portrayal of Suzy’s father, a man who feels trapped and powerless, and attempts to deal with this by lashing out at the world around him (namely trees, tents, and himself). The standout star of the film is undoubtedly Bruce Willis, despite not having worked with Wes Anderson before he delivers a fantastic performance as Captain Sharp. Willis is shockingly convincing as a sad and lonely yet wise and caring old bachelor. Early on there is a moment where you can see him almost slip into the capable alpha male he plays more typically (when he is talking to Sam’s foster parents), but otherwise he is flawless. Edward Norton also makes a strong debut as highly-strung Scout Master Ward, but while he is very funny, Bruce Willis is more compelling to watch, if only because his role feels like more of a departure. At times the younger cast members seem a little wooden, but this helps to ramp up the humour of the faux-thriller side of the story. Despite this, Lucas Hedges is fantastic as Sam’s arch-nemesis Redford.
The most poignant moments of the film frequently come from the supporting cast, the two main characters both seem incredibly sure of themselves, and so at times feel a bit like a device to draw out the conflict in the supporting cast. These come all too often in the lines Bill Murray and Bruce Willis, though occasionally through the teary eyes of Edward Norton. It is clear from the back stories of Sam and Suzy that we are supposed to feel for them, but often this is difficult. The scenes that are supposed to hint at Suzy’s sense of isolation become dominated by her amusing trio of man-child younger brothers; Sam’s constant persecution by his fellow orphans is undermined by the fact that the other orphans look like the cast of Grease. Comedy tinged with despair is Wes Anderson’s calling card, but at times the film feels unsure about which it is aiming for.
All in all I’d say that Moonrise Kingdom is another success from Anderson. If you enjoyed The Darjeeling Limited then it’s a solid choice for your next trip to the cinema (provided they’re showing it). I laughed aloud and felt warmed by the story, despite being the only person in the cinema. If you’re in the mood for something quirky, funny and a little sad, you’d struggle to do better that this film. 4/5
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