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Retrospective Film Review: Moonrise Kingdom

Sunday 26 January 2014

I find it hard to get a handle on Wes Anderson films. There’s no doubting that amongst the current crop of indie film-makers, his is a unique voice. And whilst I also appreciate his surgical approach to colour, composition and camerawork along with a canny ability to show us the difference between endearing eccentricity and vanilla kookiness, his films often leave me cold.

Not since Rushmore in 1998 can I say I’ve ever been moved by one of his films. Moonrise Kingdom is essentially that same paean to awkward adolescent stirrings, though experienced a few years back from Jason Schwartzman’s 15-year-old Max Fischer. Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward play Sam Shakusky and Suzy Bishop, a pair of 12-year-olds who meet, as in all the best love stories, quite by accident (although rarely at a church performance of Benjamin Britten’s Noye’s Fludde) and plan to elope the following Summer.

Precocious and knowing kid-characters need all the skillful handling of nitro-glycerine when it comes to audience-empathy, but Anderson’s trump card (or rather trump-technique) is not allowing us too long a glimpse into his protagonists’ psyches. Sam and Suzy are both loners, separated from those around them by age (the adults) as much as by their interests (Suzy likes stolen library fiction, Sam paints watercolours). A few years older and these characters might potentially irk as infuriatingly Alternative (which says more about a contemporary cynicism that changes as often as the tide than anything else) but in Anderson’s hands, and thanks to two exceptional performances, Sam and Suzy come across as honest and utterly loveable.

The Britten is woven through the film and provides a literary musical bedrock (that Alexandre Desplat complements quite nicely), and the film is bathed in pastel Summer hues that effortlessly recall our own personal childhood misadventures (back in the day when we had Seasons).

The supporting cast are as great as you’d expect from Bruce Willis, Bill Murray et al, but this is really about the hugely talented younger cast that sell the movie, and that’ll have you wondering where and why it all goes wrong for us adults.

Words: Ash Verjee