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Moonrise Kingdom

You can spot a Wes Anderson film from a mile off.
By Tom Glasson
August 31, 2012
By Tom Glasson
August 31, 2012

You can spot a Wes Anderson film from a mile off. That's no criticism, mind you. The same can be said of any accomplished artist with a distinctive vision, and for Anderson that observable familiarity springs from his meticulous staging, enchanting sense of nostalgia, comically dysfunctional families and, generally, the casting of Bill Murray. The challenge for a director like that is to maintain those familiar traits without being so samey as to feel derivative. Every film becomes their 'difficult sophomore album', and thankfully in Anderson's case, Moonrise Kingdom is his The Bends, Astral Weeks and Nevermind combined.

Set off New England's coast on the small fictional island of New Penzance, Moonrise Kingdom is a tale of adolescent love in the '60s. Sam (Jared Gilman) is a bespectacled 12-year-old orphan and talented boy scout whose social dyslexia renders him as unpopular with his scout troupe as it does his foster parents. His great love Suzy (Kara Hayward) is an attractive, voracious reader whose violent outbursts are a source of constant concern and dismay for her two attorney parents (Frances McDormand and Bill Murray). Fed up with a world that doesn't understand them, the pair elopes through the forest, sparking a hilarious search that at once enrages and galvanises the whole community. Both Hayward and Gilman are terrific, with the latter difficult not to imagine as a very young Charlie Sheen throughout.

Music is always a massive component of Anderson's movies and it's the work of composer Benjamin Britten that underscores much of Moonrise Kingdom. Britten's 'Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra' bookends the entire film, and whilst it would be too clunky to simply replace 'orchestra' with 'life' in order to discover the film's message, Anderson's choice remains a very deliberate one.

As with the sections of the orchestra in Britten's composition, Suzy's family is first broken up into its individual components and examined in isolation before finally being brought back together so that we might better understand them as a whole. The other 'instruments' in this piece include Bruce Willis as the island's sheriff, Tilda Swinton as an agent of Social Services, and Edward Norton, Jason Schwartzman and Harvey Keitel as 'Khaki Scout leaders' with varying levels of power and responsibility.

Of Anderson's seven films this is definitely his darkest, yet it still retains his whimsical sense of humour and Fantastic Mr Fox-styled absurdity. As a story it plays out exactly like the fantasy novels of which Suzy is so fond: fantastic, heroic, and quietly romantic. Anderson isn't to everyone's taste, but longtime fans will love this film and newcomers couldn't want for a better introduction.

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