Moonrise Kingdom: Where the Sun Never Sets
I’d been looking forward to Moonrise Kingdom since a few moments into the first time I saw the trailer, essentially from the point I realised that it was a Wes Anderson film. Then I waited, patiently, for it to appear in the listings for my local cinema. Then I waited, somewhat less patiently, as the odd mention of the film started popping up on twitter, not not paying any particular heed to the coverage out of fear of spoilers (which, how would you even do that for a Wes Anderson film?) but because I didn’t really care to take any more information than the trailer already contained with me when I finally got to see the film. Finally, and by this point impatiently, I went to check Moonrise Kingdom’s UK release date only to find it was nearly a month prior, and that it seemed to have bypassed the backwaters of South Wales almost entirely. There was one more showing some two hours away (geographically) and a few more hours away (temporally). Needless to say I sounded the action klaxon immediately, rallied my co-conspirators and sallied forth without delay…
Admittedly, there’s a lot of rhetorical flourish in there which borders on the (in fact is) completely false.
Moonrise Kingdom: Where the Sun Never Sets
The mannered artifice of Wes Anderson’s films is sometimes criticised for its distancing effect, for prioritising his admittedly stagey taste in aesthetics and acting over the dramatic and emotional weight of the story he is trying to tell, but this enthusiasm for the baroque works, perhaps more so than in any of his previous work, in service to the underlying themes and tones that the narrative is invoking. In the case of Moonrise Kingdom this Brechtian performativity and self-conscious attention to the various freedoms and strictures of the medium seem like they ought to offer some flexibility, an allowance of a particular leeway and latitude for the acting of a largely young and inexperienced cast. This thesis is never tested though, with Kara Hayward (Suzy) and Jared Gilman (Sam) taking their shared responsibility for the film’s emotional centre in apparently effortless stride; balancing it alongside a dedicatedly blank-faced obliviousness to the comedies of juxtaposition which they are playing out by the disconnect between Wes Anderson & Roman Coppola’s knowing script and their more innocent youth.
The rest of the film’s large contingent of prepubescent actors are similarly deft, albeit with less taxing roles to play, and sit comfortably even in the presence of such cinematic luminaries as Tilda Swinton (brilliantly officious and deadpan as the anthropomorphic instantiation of Social Services), Edward Norton (earnest and hangdog by turns as Scout Master Ward) and the always excellent Frances McDormand and Bill Murray. Bruce Willis’s Captain Sharp though, is unerringly intriguing, a character portrayed through an understanding of the actor’s craft that is neither required nor apparent in the vast majority of his work. There’s seldom an off-key moment in performance then, even where Moonrise Kingdom’s protagonists are pressed into servicing its occasionally heavy-handed metaphors: Suzy’s use of binoculars to show her up as an outsider and Captain Sharps dual roles as lifeline and lifeline, which affects to create a world wherein the deliberateness of the players is matched by the deliberateness of the stage. The overarching goal then, a tapestry of the casually and quietly “off” which nonetheless inhabits the world in Norman Rockwell’s Beyond the Easel.
Still, and in spite of this apparent security, there is a certain pervasive brittleness to the ‘Archie Comics, gee-shucks and ginger ale’ memory of an implausible Americana, the impression that Anderson & Coppola et al. are gently teasing at the stereotypes of the exceptionalist idyll of a not-at-all-simpler time. They don’t go so far as to mock this essentially harmless aesthetic nostalgia, but instead offer their recollection and mild critique by tending towards a bright and busy visual style and carefully crafted verbosity. These grants the young characters a naïve, optimistic intelligence which is reflected in the vividness of the world around them while their parents and guardians are left trapped by their own cynicism and pessimism, neither of which they are intellectually resolute enough to overcome without the aid of their successors. Moonrise Kingdom is, at its heart, an adventure story of the kind its female lead is so enamoured of, an elegiac beginning which cannot help but buckle under the strong-willed hopes of Suzy and Sam.