Orchestral Manoeuvres: Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom (2012) – on Blu-ray and DVD
The adults are classic Wes Anderson; the kids showcase exciting new avenues. Anderson goes to war with himself, and wins twice over.
(Wes Anderson 2012)
The clue to unlocking Moonrise Kingdom and, indeed, the whole of Wes Anderson’s career, comes with the preferred music choice of the film’s protagonist, Suzy Bishop: Benjamin Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. That record deconstructs a symphony into its constituent parts in order to better explain the majesty of the whole – and Anderson’s approach to cinema works in the same way.
All the criticisms that have dogged the director’s career apply here: the formal, straight-on compositions, the compartmentalised art direction, the hipster’s record collection, the deadpan whimsy in dialogue and performance. But Anderson’s films aren’t merely a collection of affectations; together, they become strangely affecting, and Moonrise Kingdom is Anderson’s most plaintive, heart-on-sleeve film to date, a blast of happiness at the possibilities of this medium to tell stories. The director synthesises the best of fiction (an omniscient narrator), music, animation and theatre to create something that can only work as cinema.
And once you buy into the orchestra metaphor, a lot of Moonrise Kingdom’s narrative choices make even more sense. There has always been something of the scoutmaster about Anderson, so it’s apt that Suzy’s teenage love, Sam Shakusky, is a scout: immaculately costumed and adorned with badges that demonstrate prowess in unusual skillsets. Even the way that Anderson’s camera moves – forwards, backwards, sideways – mimics the points of the compass.
Yet there’s something looser in Moonrise Kingdom, a newfound sense of letting go. That’s implicit in a story about two runaways, and Anderson brings out handheld cameras, sun-bleached lighting and a more off-the-cuff performance style out of newcomers Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman. The effect is like watching Badlands remade for kids, and that’s no bad thing.
Meanwhile, it’s the adults who are running hither and thither along the pre-ordained tracks of Anderson’s symmetry, and there’s the feel of a director comfortable enough in his quirks to parody himself as he brings together yet another superb Anderson ensemble. Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman we know about, but Edward Norton (swapping his customary intensity for an affable prissiness) and Bruce Willis (aging gracefully into old-school stolidity) are revelations. As for Frances McDormand and Tilda Swinton, well, Anderson gets the same reliable work out of them as the Coens and others have.