1965, the New England island of New Penzance. One morning, Scout Master Ward (Norton) finds that precocious Khaki Scout Sam (Gilman) has gone AWOL from the camp in order to run away with Suzy (Hayward), a young girl he’s fallen in love with. Together with the local sheriff (Willis) and Suzy’s parents (Murray, McDormand), Ward and his scouts mount a search party…
Wes Anderson, as anyone who’s familiar with Wes Anderson will tell you, makes movies which are very Wes Anderson. The quirky writer-director, who’s considered as celebrated royalty among the hipster indie crowd, has such a distinct and instantly-recognisable style that you always know when you’re watching one of his pictures – and Moonrise Kingdom is no different. Primary colours, folksy soundtrack, meticulously-framed shots, dysfunctional families, eccentric straight-faced characters, matter-of-fact dialogue, recurring cast members (Billy Murray, Jason Schwartzman)… all the boxes are ticked here. Hell, the opening alone – which uses a static, straight-on establishing shot before tracking sideways through the house like we’re peering into a doll’s house – might be the most Wes Anderson sequence that Wes Anderson has ever filmed.
As such, there’s little here for those who don’t favour his signature style, and plenty for those who do. Regardless, there’s a few amusing sight gags (including a rather brilliant Shawshank Redemption hat-tip) and there’s no arguing with Anderson’s eye for striking visuals, even if the latter does tend to call attention to itself on occasion as somewhat artificial. Crucially though, despite the fact that the characters are as emotionally detached as usual (nobody ever seems to smile or laugh in his films), the pre-pubescent love story is surprisingly affecting and involving at times, helped by two terrific performances from newcomers Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward. It’s also reasonably comparable to Richard Ayoade’s far superior Submarine and will probably grow on you like the rest of Anderson’s work, while the cast (Frances McDormand, Bruce Willis, Ed Norton and Tilda Swinton) are all predictably great.
Another Wes Anderson film which is very Wes Anderson, Moonrise Kingdom won’t offer much for those who don’t respond to his work, but plenty for those who do.