Moonrise Kingdom is Wes Anderson’s best, funniest and emotionally most satisfying film to date. All the familiar tropes of Anderson’s work are there – dysfunctional families; jaded, immature father figures; youth wise beyond their years; his unmistakably anachronistic costume and production design; and, of course, his signature camera move – the wide angle ‘crab’ or ‘ped’ along cross-sectional sets. And yet, here all of them seem perfectly calibrated and fresh.
The opening title sequence is a great example. We are introduced to the Bishops, a typically quirky, Anderson-esque family, going about their daily lives in their middle class home. The children gather to listen to Benjamin Britten’s ‘Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra’ on a battery operated record player; the parents potter aimlessly about, while the camera takes in the scene, gliding smoothly from left to right and stopping in on each room to watch these daily activities play themselves out. But just as this started to feel overly familiar (I recall myself thinking about the set design of the train in Darjeeling Limited, how it was built to facilitate a tracking camera, and wondering how he customised the design of the Bishops’ house) the camera suddenly whipped round 45 degrees and then whipped again to 90, suddenly (and literally) adding a new dimension to the scene: depth. As the sequence proceeded, I realised that Anderson was also playing with time through his editing and sound design. For though we jump from one room to the next, skipping to different times in the day, and are introduced to various characters, the sound track (Britten’s Young Person’s Guide) keeps us rooted in the room and time when Lionel Bishop first put the needle to the record. Rarely has Anderson been more accomplished than in this beautifully conceived and executed opening.
Don’t get me wrong: I love Rushmore, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Royal Tenenbaums and The Life Aquatic (probably in that order) but none of these quite achieved the level of bitter sweet perfection that I felt watching Moonrise Kingdom. This may in part be due to the exquisite heights reached by his long-time collaborator, the cinematographer Robert Yeoman. The rich pale blues of his moonlight skies; the summer bright greens, yellows and browns; his wide-eyed lenses and delicate closeups are central to the way we experience the characters and the mood of the piece. I mean honestly – who needs the distraction and gimmickry of three dimensions when you can feast your eyes on such mastery. (One forgives him for crossing the line a few times.)
The wonderful ensemble cast have a ball with Anderson and co-writer Roman Coppola’s original screenplay (which I hope gets the recognition it deserves). I particularly enjoyed Bruce Willis’ turn as Captain Sharp (Island Police), and Edward Norton as Scout Master Ward. Bill Murray and Frances MacDormand were at their miserable best, and there were some funny cameos from Jason Schwartzman, Harvey Keitel, Bob Balaban and Tilda Swinton, but the piece was carried completely by the two leads: Jared Gilman and Kara Haywood as the pubescent love birds who hatch a plan to run away together.
‘Awesome,’ was the first thing I said as the closing credits began to roll, echoed instantly by the guy in the row behind me (to whom the same thought had evidently occurred). There’s a lot more to be said about this film (not least the soundtrack and ironic film references), but that’s enough for now. Go and see for yourself. I doubt you’ll be disappointed.