Film of the Week: Moonrise Kingdom

Rating (out of 5)
Show details
Wes Anderson (writer/director), Roman Coppola (writer)
Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, Jason Schwartzman, Bob Balaban
Running time

Before the film, the trailers. As you would expect. Except today of all days I wondered if the projectionist was taking the proverbial for up there on the screen assisted by a thundering rendition of the national anthem was a stirring trailer for the re-release of A Queen is Crowned.

Restored to colour and with Olivier narrating, this 1953 document of the Queen’s Coronation has never looked so epic or so mightily flag-wavingly British. Corgi lovers across the land will find themselves unconsciously standing up to salute, such is the power of its editing, voiceover and sound. 

The reason for suspecting a prank was that next door in the adjacent cinema, the First Minister was launching the ‘Yes Scotland’ campaign to drive forward the route to Scottish Independence. The timing couldn’t have been more ironic and the titters around the cinema and a lone voice muttering ‘you have got to be joking’ gave me the giggles which put me in the right frame of mind for the feature. 

And so to things that really matter....

There aren’t many filmmakers working today who can claim to have as uniquely a distinct and recognisable style as Wes Anderson. From Bottle Rocket through to The Royal Tenenbaums via Rushmore, The Life Aquatic and The Darjeeling Limited, Anderson has always depicted quirky dysfunctional families and eccentric outsiders with both fond reverence and witty disdain.

It’s usually filtered through a kaleidoscopic palette of semi psychedelic colour schemes. As a result, his films feel like modern day fairy-tales splashed with doses of magical realism and an air of nostalgia for simpler more innocent times. And there’s always plenty of tongue in cheek playfulness with the medium’s conventions.

Which means you’ll either love it or hate it. You can’t be that consistently idiosyncratic and particular an auteur and win everyone over. It's either up your street or it isn’t. Luckily for me, it’s the former and I adored every frame of it from start to close.

His seventh feature now (as both writer and director) is perhaps to date the ultimate distillation of all of his storytelling techniques and trademark quirks. Every frame is expertly executed; the whole experience precise to a fault.

Set in 1965 on New Penzance, a small island off the coast of New England the story revolves principally around the adventures and more often than not the serious misadventures of two young teenage runaway lovers, Sam and Suzy. Sam, an unwanted orphan runs away from scout camp, Suzy from her caring but peculiar parents (Bill Murray and France McDormand).

The film cuts between the search to find the kids before any mishap befalls them (although not everyone is that bothered) and the various adults interpersonal traits and failings. Edward Norton’s well-meaning but bumbling Scout leader and his remaining ‘khaki cubs’ join forces with the island’s only police officer (Bruce Willis) to find the rebellious tearaways, a task that unravels the various layers of hypocrisy the grown-ups are infected with.

I don’t really want to say anymore than that – the basic premise and style has been covered, you will enjoy the details and twists and turns all the more for ignorance.

Technically, the whole thing’s beautiful to look at and starts with wonderfully simple but expertly crafted scenes introducing the characters and laying down the film’s future terrain, half of which is a delightfully elegant title sequence. It’s all helped along by some deadpan narration to camera from the brilliant Bob Balaban who has never been more perfectly cast, his persona magnified by the camera framing him a little bit ‘off’ when he appears.

I detected traces of Richard Ayoade’s wonderful debut Submarine with its nouvelle vague style crack at rebellious star crossed lovers caught up in their own half-baked dream and a whiff of the Coen brothers seeping in, for the closing chapters of the film race through one genre pastiche after another but never distract from the plot.

It’s a gem of a film, and for me Anderson’s best work to date. It’s funny, oddly moving and often poetic. It has much to say and yet at the same time manages to be a big ball of cinematic light hearted candy floss. Moonrise Kingdom is a warm and gentle summer breeze of a film so I recommend you just let it wash over you.