I almost feel foolish, all this posting of invariably positive reviews from MIFF. I mean, it's obviously not a bad thing. I'd much rather spend a fortnight watching films I enjoy over films I think are bad/boring/inconsequential. That being said though, I feel still like I'm being won over very easily by these nuggets of cinematic bliss. What a slurry, no? Gimme some good performances and some lush visuals and suddenly I'm all hot and bothered, all "WANNA LIKE, GET OUT OF HERE? BACK TO MY PLACE SO I CAN WRITE A GUSHING BLOG?"
But I digress.
Moonrise Kingdom was the MIFF equivalent of my over-the-top excitement about The Dark Knight Rises. Mercifully, Moonrise Kingdom managed to live up to my lofty expectations, and then exceed them with flying colours. In short, I really enjoyed it.
The long version of that succinct little statement is this:
Wes Anderson has crafted a really magical story. Admittedly, he does have a real propensity for telling slightly fantastical tales that happen to be somewhat set in a reality we're familiar with, so it shouldn't really come as a surprise that he's done it again. In the case of Moonrise Kingdom, it's a story of first love, of the last summer before adulthood rears its ugly head.
Sam is an orphan, and by far the most unpopular member of his khaki scout troupe. Suzy is also a misfit without friends, a bookworm who's been deemed a "troubled child". They meet the summer before this one and instantly become pen pals, confiding with each other about their social misfortune and familial woes. We pick up the story as Suzy looks out her window with her ever-present pair of binoculars. She's on the look-out for Sam, with whom she's planned to meet and run away into the wilderness of the small island where they live.
They bust out of their respective prisons, Sam armed with his scouting skills and a giant backpack, and Suzy with a bunch of books, her kitten and a battery-operated record player. While Suzy's lawyer parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand), the local policeman (Bruce Willis) and Scoutmaster Ward (Edward Norton) pursue the young couple, Sam and Suzy trek across the island to a secluded beach. As an orphan, Sam's also being followed by a character known only as "Social Services" (Tilda Swinton), and all the while we the audience of a monumental hurricane that's about to hit the small island thanks information given to us to the narrator/chorus (Bob Balaban). After the small community is torn apart by the actions of the young lovers, the storm promises to set the stage for a monumental showdown.
Moonrise Kingdom is full of the dysfunctional characters, meticulous composition, nostalgic colour palette, quirky musical choices (the use of Hank Williams pleased me greatly) and humour that one would expect from Wes Anderson.
Anderson's films tend to follow the stories of quirky, intelligent underdogs. This is no different, with Jared Gilman's Sam being pretty reminiscent of a previous Anderson hero, Rushmore's Max Fischer. Both are supremely confident in themselves and their abilities, despite being unpopular and labelled as somewhat of a failure by some. I often find myself being unconvinced by young performances onscreen, yet Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward give really lovely performances. They're solemn and serious yet full of life, and ready to defeat any obstacle that dares stand in their way. You can't help but root for the young pair. They embody what it's like to be young and completely fearless.
As one would expect, Moonrise Kingdom is an ensemble piece, with each character probably being interesting and entertaining enough to warrant a story of their own. Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, Frances McDormand are all great. Bill Murray is, as ever, playing his usual Wes Anderson role, that of the slightly bored and slightly disappointed curmudgeon. Bob Balaban is quietly hilarious as the narrator, resplendent in a vaguely Life Aquatic-esque getup. Jason Schwartzmann makes a quick yet hilarious appearance as Cousin Ben, a smooth-operating contraband-selling scout leader. Even Harvey Keitel appears, as the commander of a neighbouring khaki scout troupe.
Moonrise Kingdom is Anderson's most ambitious work to date, full of all the humour, sadness, fantasy and stylistic flourishes that one would expect from the director. It's beautiful viewing, and it's distinctly Anderson, but it's never annoying about it. Given how much Anderson's style has evolved and grown since his 1996 debut, I was a little worried Moonrise Kingdom was going to risk edging into the territory of over-the-top. Not so however, as this particular ode to young love and innocence manages to be just the right amount of just about everything.