Film review: Moonrise Kingdom

by Hugh Lilly / 01 September, 2012
This may just be the American master’s best film yet, says Hugh Lilly.
Moonrise Kingdom


It’s remarkable, really, that it has taken Wes Anderson until his seventh feature to find a place for Benjamin Britten’s The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, given its pomp and didacticism – but it’s wonderful that he has. Moonrise Kingdom, a sweetly comic tale that treats the flutters of first romantic love – and even nascent sexuality – with a wholesome sincerity rarely seen in American cinema, is the director’s first period piece. The story takes place in the summer of 1965 on a fictive island called New Penzance that lies just off the coast of New England; in three days’ time, it will be battered by a ferocious storm. First-time actors Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward play Sam Shakusky and Suzy Bishop. Twelve years old and enamoured of each other, they decide to elope – but only to the far side of the island. He has to escape his Khaki Scout troop to rendezvous with her. After an exchange of letters in which he gives her detailed, orienteering-like instructions on how, when and precisely where to meet, they walk towards each other in a field – he clutching a bunch of wildflowers, her carrying a kitten in a wicker picnic-basket. (She also has a suitcase containing some books she swiped from the library, and the portable record player she borrowed from her younger brother.)

Suzy’s parents, hoping to find the runaways before the storm descends, are played by the ever-brilliant Bill Murray and Frances McDormand. They instigate a search party, which soon expands to include scoutmaster Edward Norton and his troops, and Bruce Willis, cast (somewhat) against type as the island’s only policeman. Britten’s Guide, woven through the film, is buttressed by some of his other works (Cuckoo, and his 1957 opera Noye’s Fludde, which the kids perform at film’s end) and by Alexandre Desplat’s majestic score. This comprises a suite, The Heroic Weather-Conditions of the Universe, that interpolates and reshapes some of Britten’s themes, and stands with Desplat’s compositions for The Tree of Life as some of his best work.

The film’s soundtrack isn’t all classical, mind: Sam and Suzy dance on the beach to her favourite 45, Françoise Hardy’s Le temps de l’amour. Anderson’s filmic influences are many and varied, but Kingdom nods most directly to Jean-Luc Godard’s Pierrot le fou (chiefly its pop-tastic colour scheme) and François Truffaut’s L’argent de poche. From Waris Hussein and Alan Parker’s sweetly formed but little-known 1971 film Melody, Anderson has borrowed the conceits of his lovebirds’ ersatz marriage, and having the boy be a budding artist. The film is grounded by the heartfelt, simple love story at its core, but this is still a wholly Andersonian world: phrases like l’esprit de corps are deployed at whim and in earnest; someone is called “Roosevelt”, and there’s a “Dept of Inclement Weather”; Tilda Swinton’s character, who swans in wearing a bold blue cape at the start of the third act, is referred to only as “Social Services”; and last but certainly not least, Murray appears shirtless, three sheets to the wind, and wielding an axe. Anderson writes once again with Roman Coppola, and has here perfected his candy-coloured pop-up-storybook visual style. This may just be the American master’s best film yet.

Rating: 5/5

MOONRISE KINGDOM, directed by Wes Anderson

Films are rated out of 5: 1 = abysmal; 5 = amazing

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