Wes Anderson’s new film is very Wes Anderson…ey.
Some classify event films as 2-hour explosion riddled spectacles or the next 2.5 hour superhero origin story. Not me. A new Wes Anderson film is an event I anticipate every few years. His films, while grating and kitschy to some, I mostly find endearing strokes of cinematic wizardry. Sure, not all his films work nearly as well as others but they never cease to be interesting. His newest, Moonrise Kingdom, is no exception.
Kingdom opens in the summer of 1965. Anderson begins with an impeccable tracking shot of an island cottage that could have been designed by Dr. Seuss.
The family in the cottage is the Bishops. Walter (Bill Murray) and his wife Laura (Francis McDormand) are disconnected lawyers living in a state of stasis with their 4 children: 3 younger brothers and the troubled oldest Suzy (Kara Hayward.) On the other side of the island is a Boy Scout camp led by scout master Ward (Edward Norton.) Ward runs a tight ship as we are introduced to each scout and their function in the camp. One morning they sit down for breakfast only to realize the least admired scout in the group Sam (Jared Gilman) has fled.
In a wonderful flashback to a church play we are given Sam’s motivation. Here is where he met Suzy. It was love at first site. Over a series of months the two outcasts exchanged many well written letters plotting their escape that coming summer. Back on the island they meet and retreat to the woods. This launches cinemas most eclectic search party, led by island Police Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis.)
Anderson often works with the same actors because his dry dialogue requires a diction that few possess. Here he expands his reach and taps several talents that acquit themselves perfectly. The film hangs on the relationship of the two child-actors. Gilman and Hayward display a confidence with the material that is well beyond their years. I believed these two were crazy for each other, even with their distinct lack of worldly experience. Anderson finds true humanity in their innocence and plenty of time for wry humor.
The adults in the cast are a mix of Anderson regulars and newcomers. Murray and McDormand are a hoot as the disillusioned parents, torn apart by years of apathy. Willis is a perfect choice as the Police Captain who takes his job a little too seriously. The standout here is Norton as the world’s most put together scout master. His performance is all-together nuanced and hysterical.
The other Anderson staples are firmly in place. His musical mind is second-to-none in the film world and again his soundtrack reflects that. From Benjamin Britten to Hank Williams, Anderson always knows what plays well against the action. His hand is ever-present around the camera as well. The attention to detail in every frame is astounding. I’d hate to be Anderson’s house cleaner. I imagine even the slightest picture frame askew would send him into a frenzy.
It’s easy to identify a Wes Anderson picture. His symmetrical frames, pastel color palette and soundtracks are easy to pick out of a lineup. Kingdom follows a similar pattern while never resting on the laurels of the past. To me, Anderson finds untapped emotional resonance here. The world of Moonrise Kingdom is not reality; it’s an irresistibly colorful ode to a memory of young love.