Moonrise Kingdom is a Wes Anderson movie in every imaginable way. What that means to you is entirely subjective, but the fact remains that this film, though admittedly not quite as affecting, fits into the same canon as Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums and The Life Aquatic, with some of The Fantastic Mr. Fox’s wackiness thrown in for good measure.
What I’m getting at is that every aspect of making the film was meticulously fawned over, from the perfectly manicured vintage outfits to the engrossing set dressing to the timeless and essential soundtrack. As always, Anderson clearly approached every single shot with the diligence and attention to detail of a skilled painter or photographer.
For the first time, it actually makes sense that all of the characters are wearing ankle-high slacks, colourful toques and amazing sweaters, because this film is the co-writer (he was joined here by Roman Coppola) and director’s first period piece. Set in 1964, the story takes place on a classically Andersonian island off the coast of New England called New Penzance with a tiny population, no real roads and one police officer (played with comedic sadness by Bruce Willis).
Touted as an ensemble piece, the film does line up a large cast comprised of Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Edward Norton, Jason Schwartzman and an engrossing Bob Balaban as the narrator. All of these accomplished actors treat their characters with the expected bittersweet mix of melancholy and comedy, but their presence often feels inconsequential, most likely due to the fact that it’s hard to fit so much into an 85-minute run time.
And we haven’t even made it to the protagonists yet. Newcomers Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman shine as Suzy Bishop and Sam Shakusky, a pair of misfit tweens who fall in love via mail correspondence and plot a camping getaway on the island to the dismay of Suzy’s parents (Murray and McDormand) and Sam’s camp counsellor (Norton).
The pair manages to escape and embark on a nature-filled lovers’ journey as the ensemble cast attempts to hunt them down on the island.
It’s the sort of plot that’s hard to categorize — at times it’s an innocent love story about two children finding themselves in each other; at other moments it’s a zany action comedy; then it’s an existential reflection on failing relationships.
For the most part, these genre-bending scenes mesh well together, making for an engrossing picture full of charm and heart. It’s where Anderson pushes relational melancholy into the plot that things begin to feel forced — the hardened dynamic between Murray and McDormand could’ve been pulled from literally any other Anderson film.
That’s a small complaint for a film that’s ultimately a complete success in offering childlike sweetness, a sense of adventure and magical visuals in a way that only Anderson could.
But it still feels like a Wes Anderson movie, and he seems on autopilot. Similar-minded auteurs like Jean-Luc Godard, Francois Truffaut, Woody Allen and Anderson contemporary Michel Gondry all evolved as their famed hot streaks ended, either embracing new ideas or switching up aesthetics.
Without question, Moonrise Kingdom is a fitting addition to Anderson’s oeuvre, and there’s no doubt that he’ll maintain an artistic approach to filmmaking for decades to come, but it’s hard to know how long he can keep revisiting the same ideas — both visually and thematically — before the well dries up. In other words, it’s another classic Wes Anderson film, but it very well could be his last classic of this kind.