Anyone well acquainted with Wes Anderson’s nostalgia-tinted canon knows, by heart, that the man is drunk with childhood past. Anderson’s art is most often adorned with youthful innocence paving way for maturity (Rushmore), adults dealing with adolescent issues (The Royal Tenenbaums), and families dragging emotional baggages along with them (The Darjeeling Limited). Even Fantastic Mr. Fox employed a medium meant for kiddywinks – stop-motion. His latest whimsy-filled aventure romantique is an apotheosis of his craftsmanship – right from the opener’s meticulously staged trademark tracking shots, eye-bleedingly saturated cinematography, beautifully scenic compositions, impossibly hip French-inspired soundtrack, idiosyncratic characters, droll humour and to a finale worth a standing ovation – Moonrise Kingdom wonderfully and fittingly crystallises Anderson’s filmmaking aesthetic, a signature style he can proudly (and so he should) call his very own. A true auteur, in the most basic sense of word. Show me a director who makes films like Anderson this very hour, and I’ll chew all my toenails off.
At the heart of this pre-pubescent romantic caper is the rogue elopement of two twelve-year olds, precocious and rebellious Khaki Scout Sam Shakusky and lonely adventuress Suzy Bishop (newcomers Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward, both adorably endearing in the respective roles), to the disgruntlement of the Scout Master (Edward Norton playing against type), the loveless Bishop parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) and the irritable local policeman (Bruce Willis sending up his action-hero image). This could have been a mushy, sentimental affair – but it rarely goes into mawkish territory. Instead, Moonrise is a breezy, almost featherweight, retreat into an idyllic caprice. Those who bemoans Anderson’s affectations – offbeat humour, self-aware approach, all-to0-smart youthful protagonist – seems to have completely missed the point of an Anderson film. He recreates a storybook world that operates on its own whimsical fantasy. Here, the coastal New England setting seems adrift and totally isolated from civilisation, but what makes Moonrise utterly believable is Anderson’s ability to balance fancy and idiosyncrasy with palpably human emotional truths. When it teeters into sentiment, it sharply swerves back into beautiful playfulness. There is a wonderful scene where Sam sincerely confesses ‘I love you, but you don’t know what you’re talking about‘ in response to Suzy’s claim that being an orphan is romantic. I don’t know about you, but this line says a lot about innocence and maturity rubbing elbows together.
As with his previous works, where depression, suicide and family feud become Tenenbaums central emotional conflict, where psychological immaturity become the baggage of the Darjeeling brothers, and ultimately existentialism is tackled with in Fox, Moonrise Kingdom is beset with sadness and longing, both in the blossoming and subsequently withering of love. Sam and Suzy’s hilariously naïve attempt to consummate their affair (they sort of got married, to the shock of everyone) seems so utterly foolish and unwise yet somehow pure and boldly confrontational when compared to the loveless, passionless relationships of the Bishops, the loneliness of the bachelor Captain Sharp, or even the professional melancholia of Scout Master Ward. And like the best of Anderson’s cinema, reality kicks in after flights of fancy (there’s a rambunctious finale set in the middle of a hurricane) but it’s one that’s infused with hope. First love never dies, they say, but it does. We’re never sure if Sam and Suzy makes it through adulthood together as a couple, but the uncertainty makes it all the more bittersweet.
Wes Anderson’s seventh feature is infused with almost featherweight childhood nostalgia, but don’t let that deceive you. Moonrise Kingdom is a heartfelt, albeit whimsical, paean to the caprices of first love, longing and youthful escapism told in meticulous cinematic detail and style unrivalled by any director of his league. It’s also wonderfully, coolly idiosyncratic.