Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Movie Review: Moonrise Kingdom

Moonrise Kingdom
—directed by Wes Anderson
—written by Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola

The moon is full in Moonrise Kingdom as those who know Wes Anderson’s films would expect. The moon is always full in his films—always. While this story is told as a children’s fable, it is intended for and is best suited for adults.

Set in 1965 on the fictional island of New Penzance off of the coast of New England, we find two precocious pre-teens set to run away. They meet at a community theatrical production of Noah’s Ark and spend some time afterwards as dedicated pen pals. Their names are Suzy and Sam, played by newcomers Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman. Soon they make the decision to escape. Sam is an outcast orphan who is at Camp Ivanhoe as a Khaki Scout. He deserts his camp much to the dismay of his regimented camp leader, Scout Master Ward played by Edward Norton. Suzy escapes her dysfunctional attorney parents, played by Bill Murray and Frances McDormand. They embark into the wild on their own devices. Sam is heartened by his own sense of survival skills. Suzy, in heavy eye make-up, also feels intrepid and brings along her pet kitten and a battery operated record player to play her favorite French pop records. The rest of the plot involves Suzy’s parents, Sam’s scout troop, their leader, and a local police officer played by an unrecognizable Bruce Willis, all seeking to find them as a storm (turning into a hurricane) approaches.

Other than the two previously unknown leads, the cast includes many well-known actors: Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Tilda Swinton, Jason Schwartzman, Harvey Keitel, and Bob Balaban. All of the roles are exquisitely performed. Most of these excellent players have worked before with Wes Anderson—the most frequent being Jason Schwartzman and Bill Murray. Moonrise Kingdom marks Edward Norton’s first time to work with the director and he fits into the ensemble so seamlessly that one hopes to see him in future Anderson films.

The music plays a major role in this film. Usually in a movie the music is meant to be merely atmospheric. It is meant to be transparent if not out-right subliminal. Whether plucky or pristine, regal or military, the music of Moonrise Kingdom cannot be missed. In the opening, Suzy (at her home) puts a record on her player with Benjamin Britten music and a narrator explaining the different sections of the modern orchestra, not unlike how baby-boomers might remember Andre Previn using Tchaikovsky’s Peter and the Wolf to illustrate the sounds of various instruments back in the 1960s (the same period as the setting of this film). Beyond the strong presence of the music and the didactic approach, the sheer variety of the musical contributions demands attention as well. Those represented in the film include Benjamin Britten, Henry Purcell, Leonard Bernstein, Peter Jarvis, Hank Williams, Camille Saint-Saens, Francoise Hardy, Franz Schubert, and the well-celebrated contemporary composer Alexandre Desplat, among others. While this music in combination may not seem very euphonic when listened to on a CD, it is beautifully incorporated into the film and plays a major role in the film’s success.

Moonrise Kingdom’s most notable quality is Wes Anderson’s ultra-cultivated style. He is often referred to as quirky, but never zany. Given all the whimsy, there is always an underlying structure that is visually formal and often symmetrical. Anderson’s meticulous style is reflected in Edward Norton’s character, the scout leader. He may come off like a nerd, but all is “by the book” and quite regimented. Anderson often uses dioramas (miniature sets) and this is especially at play in the opening scenes of Moonrise Kingdom as the camera shifts from one room to another, one level to another, Suzy’s home, like in a doll’s house with every decorative detail precisely in place.

It is often said of Wes Anderson’s films, that people will either love them or hate them. I think of that same statement for his film The Life Aquatic (for me his least accessible film). I enjoyed The Royal Tenenbaums, but find Moonrise Kingdom to be his most accessible film to date.

Check out Moonlight Kingdom soon or any other Wes Anderson films (and never worry about the order in which you view them).

And, remember, it is always free at the Birmingham Public Library.

Submitted by David Blake
Fiction Department
Central Library

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