Thursday, 31 May 2012

FILM REVIEW: Moonrise Kingdom

Wes Anderson has been somewhat on a roll of late with the very fun Darjeeling Limited ("I LOVE YOU BUT I'M GOING TO MACE YOU IN THE FACE!" still comes out of my mouth occasionally, and with no context) and the utterly charming Fantastic Mr Fox (considering doing the wolf's salute as I walk down the aisle next month). A winning roll which suggests the quirky quintessential American has found his stride as a director, with the tone and humour of his films, and his ability to tell - if not an original story - a reimagination of a classic tale. So with his latest Moonrise Kingdom boasting one of his best ideas to date - let's focus away from the dysfunctional squabbling family members for a change, and pluck for 60s nostalgia adventure adolescent love story - I had super high hopes of instantly loving it. The trailer in particular was also ace, only making sense when you see "a film by Wes Anderson" pop up on your screen. But whilst Moonrise Kingdom is very Wes Anderson, he's also made a few changes here which is to its detriment: it's stylish, audibly playful and feels like it's been filmed against a perpetual sunset - but there's not enough spirit.

Newcomers Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman (who were cast after a school tour by Anderson, looking for the perfect lonesome teens) play Suzy and Sam, a pair of troublesome outcasts who meet at a school production of the Noah Ark's tale, and begin writing to one another. With both their home lives lacking - Sam is in foster care and Suzy's disruptive behaviour is driving parents Frances McDormand and Bill Murray to self help manuals - they decide to run away together, and set up their own home, armed suitably with Sam's sharp and resourceful scouting skills, and Suzy's knowledge for adventure from her many stolen library books. But, they live on the tiny island of New Penzance, so they can't go far. Soon the local cop Bruce Willis, Scout Master Edward Norton and Social Services Tilda Swinton are tracking them down, along with a tribe of Scout boys armed with axes and clubs, and a tragic dog. I'm not sure I can forgive the film for what happens to the poor dog.

Usually Anderson's films are an adult only affair - the adults behaving as children sometimes, or voicing them as in the case of stop-motion Fantastic Mr Fox - but here, they are sidelined to let the kids steal the show. Well, try to. Hayward and Gilman are very watchable as the pre-pubescent elopers, particularly Hayward who is gorgeously suited to this era in block blue eyeshadow and 60s mini dresses. She plays the bored and acting out teen spot on, with a cool aloofness that makes her seem much older than Sam, who is the same age as her. Gilman is rougher round the edges, but is a complete Anderson protégé - you can see him turning up again in the future. It's less consistant with the Scouts, where a good few of them can't act for woggle so long stretches of the film where it's just the kids can feel a little trying on your patience. The adults, a mix of old (Murray, and a shoehorned in Schwartzman) and the new (Willis, Norton, McDormand and Swinton) fair much better, but are annoyingly given less to do - unfortunately this movie isn't really about them, just how they react to the runaway situation. Willis and Norton are strongest - both playing opposite to type, with vulnerable, childish and lonely authority figures. I love the moment where Scout Master Ward comes out of his tent to have breakfast and realises that is entire troop is missing, and again when he's stripped of his leader badge by his senior, before instantly saving him in heroic style from a fire in his hut. Along with Swinton - she's just called Social Services! - they fuse into Anderson's world seemlessly, and Bill Murray is just Bill Murray. Need I say more? He gets to throw a shoe! But the McDormand-Willis affair subplot (more of a friendship, really) doesn't add anything, and it's cliched Sam ends up being taken in by Willis. I'm still not really sure what the purpose of Jason Schwartzman was. And where was Owen Wilson?

The period setting was where Anderson got it right, the exacting detail to every scene and plot point marks the card of someone absolutely devoted to making magic cinema. The framing of each shot, and the clean tracking of the camera are staples now, and turn what you're watching into this rhythm of tableaus. He captures the moment of wanting to run away when you're young supremely well - I remember when I ran away to the back garden clasping only an alarm clock and thinking how genius I was that I'd always know the time wherever I was. Similarly here Suzy's packing seems to mostly consist of books, a record player (with spare batteries) and a cat with tins of kitten food. She hasn't thought to bring any clothes! Beautifully painted, the film has an exotic soundtrack to boot with standouts Le Temps de L'Amour by Francoise Hardy, and the choir song Cuckoo. This would make a delightful double bill with the superior Damsels in Distress.

Moonrise Kingdom's main problem comes to the surface when the main plot lags: it's just not as funny as Anderson's earlier works. A couple of genuine laughs, but the rest of it waned for me - there was no sparkle or fizzle moment that made my heart leap with joy. In fact, some pieces seemed a little much even for him, with Suzy's violence going a little too far for someone her age when it all goes a bit Lord of the Flies, to the storm at the end, and Sam getting struck by lightning. Sometimes he can pull it off, but when he can't you just wish he would rein it in a little more. This may sound like a jaded fan speaking here.. there was a lot he got right, but also a lot that fell flat.

Sweet, exceedingly conscientious and a visual treat, this will dazzle just about anybody - unless of course you're not a fan, in which case I should point out the obvious here: Moonrise Kingdom is a Wes Anderson film. But for a lovestruck fan, it doesn't scale the heights of his previous two films and Rushmore. But B+ Wes Anderson still puts a smile on your face, if not quite warming the cockles.

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