On a small island off the East Coast of 1960s America, twelve year-old Suzy runs away from her desperately unhappy parents and meets up with her pen pal Sam, an orphaned Boy Scout. Together they make their way across an island only hours before a tropical storm. In the hands of any other director, this would be the start to a pretty dark film! However, this is a Wes Anderson joint — and it’s the best film he’s made in over a decade.
This being a Wes Anderson movie, the cast will of course feature Bill Murray. He and Frances McDormand play the young girl’s parents, who launch into a full-blown panic once they realise their daughter is missing. A subdued Bruce Willis plays the local sheriff, a quiet, solitary man who may be ‘carrying on’ with Murray’s wife. Edward Norton has a great turn as the leader of the boy’s troupe who prides himself as a scoutmaster above all other things. It’s no coincidence that the film is set on an island: most of the characters are surrounded by other people but defined by their loneliness.
But at the heart of the film is the endearing courtship-of-sorts between the adolescent runaways. Suzy is a dreamer who dresses like Jeanne Moreau and packs the most impractical supplies for her exodus: a portable record player and a selection of her favourite hardbacks. Sam is confident as a scout, but little else. Having fallen for Suzy the summer before, he steals her away from her unhappy home, taking her on an adventure filled with visual gags, mini encounters and those tiny truthful moments of awkwardness that so often characterises young love.
After his back to back successes with Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums, Anderson became an indie-mainstream darling and took a self-indulgent dive into the deep end of the quirky pool, developing the style with which he would become synonymous. In The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and The Darjeeling Limited, his 60s-inspired designs, twee retro soundtracks and flights of fancy were all ramped up to the point of parody. It became curiously noticeable that all of his lead characters were insufferably miserable egomaniacs.
While Moonrise Kingdom doesn’t rein back the aesthetic, Anderson has found the heart that’s been missing from his recent work. He’s managed to cut back on his excesses without compromising anything. The willful whimsy has been replaced by a control and sense of sadness that makes the film cohere and linger in the memory. Coming in at little over 90 minutes, Moonrise Kingdom packs in so much wit, character and visual invention that it feels like the perfect union of Anderson’s talents.
We like this movie an awful lot, and we think that you might too.
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