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Film Review: Moonrise Kingdom

On September 16, 2012

By Rebecca McRitchie

Moonrise Kingdom is the newest film from writer-director Wes Anderson. Known primarily for his 2001 movie, The Royal Tenenbaums, Anderson has carved a niche for himself in Hollywood with his idiosyncratic style. Immaculately framed and exhibiting all of Anderson’s well-known trademarks, Moonrise Kingdom is, thankfully, more developed than his 2004 film, Life Aquatic, and far more interesting than his 2007 movie, The Darjeeling Limited. Anderson’s movies have often been critiqued as either having the same story or being of more style than substance. Moonrise Kingdom has both style and substance, however, the narrative could have benefitted from having the same fine-tooth comb tuning as the presentation displayed.

Set on an island off the coast of New England in the 1960s, Anderson presents a quirky summer fairy-tale where a young boy (Jared Gilman) and girl (Kara Hayward) fall in love. Dealing with broken family situations, the pair run away together and are consequently chased by every kind of variation of authority imaginable. The Romeo and Juliet story is undercut from beginning to end with the Narrator’s (Bob Balaban) ominous foretelling that a storm and devastating floods will ravage the island in three days time.

Written by Anderson and his The Darjeeling Limited co-writer Roman Coppola, the cast is made up of Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, along with some Anderson regulars – Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman. It is true that Anderson’s style of moviemaking isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. But it is hard not to admire the arresting or ‘eccentric’ visual presentation that fills Anderson’s every frame and camera angle. All of which is matched with singularly unique diegetic music. Moonrise Kingdom is drenched in 60’s nostalgia, with great attention paid to the colour palette of each scene and the placement of people and objects, right down to the minutia of strands of hair, the size of leaves and even the organisation of twigs on the ground. The entire movie is like an Instagram photo – a nostalgic capture of a different time and place that never existed, though a world we can’t help but yearn to be a part of.

The narrative is poignant and addresses Anderson’s recurring themes of young love, escapism and broken or flawed family circles. The humour is naturally deadpan and dry, and more likely to inspire a smile than outright laughter. There is also an innocent sweetness to Moonrise Kingdom that is more developed than in previous Anderson films and this, matched with the woodland landscape, gives the movie an endearing and enchanting fairy-tale feel. However, with such attention paid to the visual, narrative inconsistencies, repetitions and somewhat anti-climactic resolutions are made more evident by contrast. The movie, which had successfully been building in tension, fell flat in the last half hour and there were a few scenes that the movie could have done without in order to make it more impactful. One of them was a scene that evolved out of the beach dancing scene, which was more uncomfortable than humorous, and the other involved lightning in a field – a scene, which if it had been omitted, would have made a certain black-on-blue silhouette scene that followed more affecting.

Overall, I give Moonrise Kingdom a 3.8/5. If the movie had paid just as much attention to narrative as it did style, then it could have trumped The Royal Tenenbaums. Although it doesn’t do this, and comes arguably a close second, it is still a fine movie. I am unable to shake the feeling that something extraordinary is afoot for Anderson the moment he marries an impeccable narrative with his impeccable style. And whether you like his style or not, Anderson’s vision of a world that is not only immaculately striking but that empathises with people who don’t fit in with it, is something that should be recognised.

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