Wes Anderson has been responsible for some of film’s quirkiest, most original comedies (The Royal Tenebaums, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, Rushmore) and with only one (The Darjeeling Limited) which has disappointed. That’s not to say everyone likes his films because his style, simply put, is like Marmite. It’s always love or hate, black or white. Despite his latest offering, Moonrise Kingdom, being arguably the best film of his career to date, there will still be no convincing of his detractors, as this is classic Anderson.
As is the norm for him, he has assembled a group of talented individuals together, with stalwart Bill Murray again playing a part, as well as a small cameo from Jason Schwartzman. Here they are joined by Bruce Willis (his best role in a while), Ed Norton (proving comedy can be his thing) and our always dependable Tilda Swinton. However, each and every one of them are upstaged by the two young stars, newcomers Kara Haywood and Jared Gilman.
Sam (Gilman) and Suzy (Haywood ) are two 12 year olds living in New Penzance, a fictional pleasant island off New England. Set in the 60’s, they both suffer from dysfunctional families (Sam being fostered and subsequently abandoned) and decide to run away together after briefly meeting a year previously, shown in flashbacks. They planned this by being pen pals which coincided with his Scouts group coming to the island.
After causing much furore with their disappearance for the adults, which includes local sheriff Captain Sharp (Willis), scout leader Ward (Norton) and Suzy’s parents Walt and Laura Bishop (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand), this leads the young runaways on an exploration of both themselves and the island while causing numerous headaches for the adults and scouts searching for them.
This is the crux of the film, but the themes that run throughout this coming-of-age comedy drama (childhood romance, bullying, family issues) all play a part in the sweet-natured innocence of the film. Most of them actually apply to the adults too, showing that Anderson can cleverly relate the finer details of adult and adolescent issues while making them distinct enough to enjoy both aspects. Although the love triangle between Captain Sharp and the Bishops are just a sub-plot, it shows that adults are just as vulnerable with love as children.
Yet the film belongs to, Sam and Suzy, and it is their story which captures our hearts. The relationship between them is beautifully played out, and it’s the naivety and purity of their actions which makes their bond so endearing, both within the story and the actual performances of Gilman and Haywood.
If there’s one thing that hinders this slightly is that there is a certain scene which makes for uncomfortable viewing. For all of Anderson’s well-intentioned purposes to emphasise the incorruptibility of Sam and Suzy’s actions, it was not really necessary to further this by showing Sam touching Suzy. We, the viewer, have already empathised with their young love at this point, so some may be able to overlook this, others may not.
Otherwise, as the story moves along with them trying to reunite after being separated, thanks to the help of former enemies (Sam’s scout group he abandoned), their adventure begins again. The late appearance of Tilda Swinton to the island as a social services representative further adds to the drama and a thrilling climax ends probably how you would expect.
This humorous tale of adolescent love and friendship and the dynamics between them is one worth seeing . It may be fantasy and idyllic, but you will find yourself longing for your forgotten childhood thanks to memorable characters and Anderson’s attention to detail and unique light-handed direction. If only growing up was really this eventful.