FAULT Film: Moonrise Kingdom Review

“Poems don’t always have to rhyme, you know. They’re just supposed to be creative.”  This writer imagines that this will be the popular hook in reviews for Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola‘s Moonrise Kingdom – or, alternatively, “what does that mean, over?” It is probably trite to summarise this film as a rom-com, if one of the best of all time at that. But in Moonrise Anderson, as with the best of his films, has taken a classic human theme and created an engaging, intimate three-day story in the lives of two romantic runaways and the comically beleaguered people around them.

“The year, is 1965” proclaims the trademark Anderson narrator (Bob Balaban), introducing the audience to the fictititious New Penzance Island and environs, Rhode Island state. New Penzance, as with the locations in The Life Aquatic, proves to be as disconnected from the outside world of the film as it is from the real world. Balaban’s gnome-like character, proclaiming the rich heritage of the island, exudes pride and displays the bathos that inundates the island community. Tinted by time and nostalgia, the setting seems almost as strange as a Miyazaki tale.

This is the backdrop for the three-day story of young teenagers Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman), formerly of the Khaki rangers, and Susie Bishop (Kara Hayward). Escaping their respective homes, together they cut a path through an old Indian trail, lacking any aim for the future except for escape from the banal. When the islanders, led by Scoutmaster Randy Ward (Edward Norton) and Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis) organise a search party – and all the while the narrator’s ominous weather forecast in the back of our minds – we are treated to an absurdly funny, emotionally thoughtful, memorable adventure. 

Anderson has chosen a panoramic style of filming, with action and dialogue occuring across a fixed horizontal. The effect is a little disconcerting at first, but it allows Anderson to create striking shots for every scene. From the ruddy autumn landscape, or navigating through chattering crowds at the church, to the fantastical roof-top silhouettes: this is a beautiful film. Each time Captain Sharp sits at his radio, stunned by one revelation after another, we can see the silence and hear his jaw-dropping astonishment explode his command post. Equally powerful is when Anderson chooses to subvert the style, with children flittering in and around certain scenes or when the two leads stare directly at the audience.

Moonrise Kingdom has attracted a star-studded cast, and each actor has given an engrossing performance. Bruce Willis as the dogged policeman, far removed from his typical action-hero roles and even more likeable for it. Bill Murray and Frances McDormand as the lawyer-couple, weary of each other and the world, and parents of Susie Bishop. Within their comparatively muted performances the pair deliver some of the funniest lines in the film, their mutual hatred long ago reduced to simmering impatience. Tilda Swinton, Harvey Keitel and Jason Schwartzman each have briefer but no less colourful performances.

Special mention should go to Edward Norton, playing against recent type, as the bumbling Scout Master Randy Ward with hopes of glory and full of self-importance. Savagely deconstructed by both Anderson and his characters throughout the film, Norton’s gradually drooping facial expressions evoke pity but never dampens the comedy of his incompetence.

Inevitably the strength of the film lies with its two young leads. Both play the troubled, introverted teenager but their nuanced performances set them apart: Hayward as Susie whose brooding shell, barely disguising her vulnerability, never sinks into cold disinterest. And Gilman’s wide-eyed (even sans glasses), soft spoken Sam who confirms this film as masterful. In a saga that oscillates between solemn self-reflection and caricature, the pair always come across as real; and in the world of films, where children and teenagers usually induce Homeric neck-throttling rage, they prove to have been two of the most sympathetic characters for some time.

The few flaws are superficial in nature, and more subject to the viewer’s personal aesthetic than anything else. A distinct, stimulating Anderson take on the fantasy epic. A brilliant character study capturing weary adulthood, blissfully ignorant childhood and everything in between. This film is a must-see masterpiece, leaving you wondering of the days and hazy time in your own Moonrise Kingdom.

Moonrise Kingdom is available to buy on DVD and Blu-ray from 1st October

Pre-order the Region 2 (Europe) DVD or get the Region-Free Blu-ray version from Amazon now


Review by Charles Conway