Set on a small island off the coast of New England, during the summer of 1965, Moonrise Kingdom tells the tale of pre-teens Sam and Suzy, who evade their adult guardians to enjoy a romantic adventure in the wilderness. Their pioneer spirit and blossoming love, however, is hindered as they are pursued by the local police officer (Willis), Scout leader (Norton), Suzy’s parents (Murray and McDormand) and Social Services (Swinton).
In many ways, Moonrise Kingdom is exactly what I thought it would be: surreal; eccentric; and beautifully crafted. But, in comparison to Anderson’s previous projects, I left feeling slightly underwhelmed. Though he has, as a director, always eschewed convention and embraced a child-like aesthetic in his work, Anderson’s films have always remained distinctly ‘adult’. Moonrise Kingdom, however, feels very much like a children’s film (more so, even, than his 2009 adaptation of The Fantastic Mr Fox). Confusingly, the two protagonists – Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward – do not receive star billing, playing second-fiddle to their adult co-stars, whose characters all feel somewhat redundant.
It is Hayward who is truly the star of the show. She is fascinating as the disturbed Suzy, an unnervingly photogenic hybrid of Lolita, Lana Del Rey and Bonnie Parker and almost certainly destined for success. Gilman, however, and many of the other young actors, left me feeling somewhat cold with the collective monotony of their performances. It’s an acting style that Anderson has utilised with great success in the past, but when injected into children, feels false and pretty depressing.
Perhaps the problem with Moonrise Kingdom is that it is, essentially, a nostalgia piece. However, the nostalgia is for a uniquely American upbringing of Summer Camps, Boy Scouts and Cowboys & Indians, and though this did, to an extent, play into my love of Americana and all things nautical (there are some particularly beautiful Lighthouses in the film, which piqued my interest), the version of childhood depicted is so far removed from my own Yorkshire upbringing that something got lost in translation.
I must state this clearly: Moonrise Kingdom is not a bad film. There are definitely elements that I liked and jokes that I laughed at, and it was something of a visual treat. Anderson devotees will no doubt be thrilled with it. But in comparison to his other works, which I have enjoyed immensely, I was a little disappointed.
Words: Jack Casey
Moonrise Kingdom is currently showing at Duke of Yorks Picturehouse, Preston Circus, Brighton BN1 4JD.