Director: Wes Anderson
Cast: Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, Bruce Willis, Frances McDormand, Bill Murray, Edward Norton
Running time: 94 minutes
Plot: When an orphaned scout and his troubled sweetheart run away together, the local town is thrown into chaos as it tries to find them. As the youngsters try to escape the grown-ups, a turbulent and destructive storm approaches the town…
Whatever your opinion of his work, Wes Anderson remains one of the movie biz’s most distinctive auteurs. With his particular brand of filmmaking, the director has staked a considerable claim for the title ‘King of Indiewood’. But one viewer’s subversive curiosity is another viewer’s pretentious annoyance, two traits separated by a fine, subjective line. It’s a line on which MOONRISE KINGDOM teeters dangerously. From the film’s opening seconds Anderson piles on the stylistic quirks, boasting so much visual, audio, and technical whimsy it’s difficult to engage with what’s happening on screen. In fact, it begs the question: is there actually a point to this?
Fortunately, though much of the narrative and direction feels arbitrary, for the most part it contributes to what is essentially Anderson’s strongest suit – solid, original and thoroughly entertaining characters. Not everything has a purpose however, and MOONRISE KINGDOM does fall short of the director’s best work. But once the contrived intro is over, and the plot kicks into gear, the film shows undoubted flashes of brilliance.
Leading the cast as troubled runaways Sam and Suzy are newcomers Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward. They shine as the film’s true stars, no mean feat when stood next to indie heavyweights such as Bill Murray and Frances McDormand. Credit must also go to Anderson and Roman Coppola’s script; the exchanges between Sam and Suzy are slight but touching, and each seemingly random personality trait adds subtle layers to the characters. The film’s best scenes belong to the young couple, in which the script’s true heart comes to the foreground: they personify childhood wonder and innocence, qualities threatened by the bureaucracy and emotional distance of the adult world. Anderson handles the conflict brilliantly, and before the third act fatigue sets in, MOONRISE KINGDOM is a bittersweet triumph.
Whilst the remaining cast of characters proves equally endearing – top marks go to Murray’s detached lawyer and Edward Norton’s scout troop – they cannot entirely compensate for the film’s inherent flaws. As the plot progresses, it becomes farcical and unfocused, and Anderson crams in one quirk too many. Cute as they may be, between lightning strikes, caricature scoutmasters, and rooftop chases, one has to wonder if these touches serve a purpose in the long run. For a film that runs at only 94 minutes, it’s extremely baggy, and may have benefited from fewer Anderson-isms. There’s also an untapped wealth of potential: backstory and subplots fail to make the impact they should. One exchange between Murray and McDormand is a true master class in character and dialogue writing, but it’s not nearly enough – a frustrating glimpse of how some of MOONRISE KINGDOM’s finest elements remain undeveloped.
Wes Anderson’s penchant for the arbitrary is a double-edged sword, but his stylistic charm manages to paper over the narrative cracks. Whilst some of MOONRISE KINGDOM may prove his most unnecessarily pretentious work yet (in particular Bob Balaban’s tiresome narrator) and with undeniable flaws, its second act and central relationship are touching, funny, and quite unique – very much in the tradition of Anderson’s previous work. Far from perfect perhaps, but distinctive and enjoyable regardless.
MOONRISE KINGDOM arrives in UK cinemas 25th May