Article/ Moonrise Kingdom: Lost in Love

Wes Anderson returns with a typically eccentric coming-of-age tale

By Jason Wood

The second collaboration between Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola, Moonrise Kingdom echoes the freewheeling roadmap structure of their earlier The Darjeeling Limited (2007). And with both films, Anderson’s unique and idiosyncratic approach to storytelling is to the fore.

The film is set on an island off the coast of New England in the summer of 1965. It tells the story of two precocious 12-year-olds, Sam Shakusky and Suzy Bishop – played by remarkably assured newcomers Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward, whom Anderson forced to correspond by written letter, rather than email, in preparation for their parts – who fall in love, make a secret pact, and run away together into the wilderness. Their ultimate destination is a fabled cove that gives the film its title, actually listed as Mile 3.25 Tidal Inlet on local maps. As various authorities and concerned parents try to hunt them down, a violent storm is brewing offshore and the peaceful island community is turned upside down in dealing with the trauma of the missing juveniles.

A bittersweet account of first love, unfolding over the course of one eventful summer, the film verges on the fastidious in its attention to period detail (the tents featured in the film were all custom made to replicate the colour and shape Anderson specified). And with its whip-smart dialogue, esoteric pop soundtrack and a rich array of colours, the film recalls earlier Anderson excursions such as Rushmore (1998), The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) and the director’s animated opus Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009). Together, they have made Anderson one of the most singular of contemporary American filmmakers.

Moonrise Kingdom re-teams Anderson with cinematographer Robert Yeoman, who has shot all of the director’s features (as well as the exquisite short Hotel Chevalier, 2007). The film also continues the director’s ongoing alliance with actors Jason Schwartzman and the ubiquitous Bill Murray who, as usual, has most of the best lines.

Critics have frequently compared Anderson with Woody Allen in terms of his distinctive aesthetic and ability to create self-enclosed environments that often bear only a passing resemblance to the real world as we know it. The two filmmakers certainly share an ability to attract the best and broadest range of actors. Moonrise Kingdom also features Bruce Willis as the lovelorn local sheriff, Edward Norton as an anally retentive Khaki Scout troop leader and a suitably icy Tilda Swinton as the demonic Social Services – one of the film’s representations of authority and the force majeure figure called in when mayhem eventually erupts. Veteran actor and filmmaker Bob Balaban is both the avuncular narrator and the resident island expert with an envious range of vintage wet weather apparel, and there is a oddly uncredited appearance by another well-known actor.

Featuring a rich tapestry of complex and colourful characters with overlapping connections that gently coax the spectator into the realm of the film’s island community, Moonrise Kingdom crackles with energy and invention, combining grown-up seriousness with pure make-believe, another Anderson motif. As in Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums, children act like adults, and adults frequently act like children in a delightful role reversal that directly accesses the moments at which juvenilia and maturity converge. As Swinton says of the film, “In this story, our community of adults doesn’t really know what they’re doing and in the process find themselves to be no less childlike, and no more grown-up, than the two children”. Think of the film as a kind of fairytale, albeit one with absolute structure, desirable period artefacts and an unimpeachable sense of style.

With thanks to Curzon Cinemas

Moonrise Kingdom screens at Cornerhouse from Fri 25 May