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Monday, October 29, 2012

Moonrise Kingdom

Another late review but I've been a bit busy for the last week with writing for which actually get paid. Also, I missed the press screening for this so I paid to see it last week. Not that I would ever complain about paying for a new Wes Anderson film, of course, but still...

Like every Wes Anderson film, Moonrise Kingdom will work brilliantly for Wes Anderson fans, but will probably leave everyone else wondering what the hell they just sat through. If you've seen the likes of Rushmore or the Royal Tenenbaums, you should know what you're in for and whether or not Anderson's very idiosyncratic form of storytelling works for you.

If you've never sampled anything from Anderson's oeuvre, though, then Moonrise Kingdom might actually not be a bad place to start - just prepare yourself for plenty of whimsy, deadpan comedy and wry drama, all filtered through a directorial style that is the very definition of ironic detachment. It may not be his best film, but it is very representative of his work and is probably his most consistent thing Anderson has done since The Royal Tenenbaums, a decade ago.

The plot of Moonrise Kingdom is the typical mix of screwy quirkiness and unassuming simplicity as a couple of outcast kids run away to start a new life together, away from their controlling guardians and bullying peers who cannot hope to understand them. What unfolds then is a strangely wonderful mix of magical realism; familial drama; adventure and one of the year's best and most unlikely romances - all told with increasingly strange, yet thoroughly endearing characters and plenty of that old Wes Anderson comic charm.

It's funny that for a director whose signature style is one of emotional detachment, Wes Anderson's best films are actually really rather moving. Indeed, by stepping so far back, he allows the emotion inherent in his stories to shine through all more powerfully than it would in the hands of a more traditionally sentimental filmmakers. The one time he did try to over-egg the emotions - an ill-advised moment of pointless tragedy in the middle of The Darjeeling Limited - was, in fact, the only time that a Wes Anderson film has felt forced, fake even.

Moonrise Kingdom suffers from no such false moves, as it emerges as one of his most subtly moving and unmistakably beautiful films to date. A large part of this does lie in the sheer likability of its two oddball kid-leads, who are written with sympathy and affection and brought to life with the same by two very impressive young actors, Jared Gilman and, bearing a striking resemblance to a young(er) Emma Watson, Kara Hayward. It's impossible not to root for these kids and their somehow entirely convincing romance.         

As for the supporting cast of some of the industry's best acting talent, they are, without fail, brilliant in their alternatively comic, sympathetic and goofy roles. Tilda Swinton all but steals the show as a character literally names Social Services, while Bruce Willis brings a very different and very welcome spin to a career in on-screen law enforcement as a sad and lonely small-time cop. Francis McDormand is as terrific as ever and no one quite uses Bill Murray like Wes Anderson and this is, unsurprisingly, another in a long list of classic Murray performances. Jason Schwartsman, another Anderson veteran, effectively plays a slightly older version of his character in Rushmore, while Edward Norton is really kind of adorable as a troop leader way out of his depth.

The cast is so great, in fact, that you barely even miss Anderson's usual partner in crime, Owen Wilson.
There's no doubt about it, Moonrise Kingdom is, like every other Wes Anderson film, an acquired taste. Should you go with it, though, Moonrise Kingdom should easily win you over as a bizarre, funny, romantic and ultimately lovely modern-day fairy that is one of the year's great, offbeat pleasures.

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