Sunday, September 9, 2012

Anderson's "Moonrise Kingdom" is a World Worth Visiting

Writer-Director Wes Anderson is one of our most creative & dynamic filmmakers. His movies can be beautiful & offbeat, funny & heartbreaking, with idiosyncratic characters & unique settings. His latest effort, Moonrise Kingdom, is one of his best. The story is set in 1965. On a small island off the New England coast, orphan Sam Shakusy is attending “Khaki Scout” camp and Suzy Bishop lives there with her parents and her younger brothers. The two kids fall in love; they decide to run away together and find a place of their own; that decision affects everyone on the island as various characters search for the children, including Scoutmaster Ward (Ed Norton, in a fine comic performance), police Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis) and Suzy’s parents, well played by Bill Murray and Frances McDormand. Special kudos to the amazing young actors who play Sam & Suzy, Jared Gilman & Kara Hayward; they’re both wonderful, and have fantastic chemistry.

As the kids go off on their adventure, we get to visit with the usual (or is that unusual?) gallery of Anderson characters; Norton’s by the book Scoutmaster, Willis’s low key cop; Murray & McDormand, who are both attorneys, and define everything in legal terms, and even a narrator, played by Bob Balaban, who interacts with the characters in the story. There are some wonderful moments (Sam first falls for Suzy when she’s playing an animal in a performance of Noye’s Fludde by Benjamin Britten) and the kids bring along books & a portable record player on their journey; Suzy reads aloud for the pair, and they listen to music & dance on the beach. Like Martin Scorsese, Anderson (along with music supervisor Randall Poster) is a master at selecting music that perfectly fits the mood of a scene. The well-written, original screenplay is by Anderson & Roman Coppola (Francis Ford’s son), who also collaborated on The Darjeeling Limited (2007). The marvelous production design is by Adam Stockhuasen, and the excellent cinematography is by Robert D. Yeoman.

Brief descriptions like that can’t really give you an idea of the wonderful characters, quirky situations & amazing look of this wonderful film. Any commonplace synopsis would ruin the fun, and the enjoyment of discovering this excellent story for yourself.  Like all of Anderson's movies, the visual style draws you in; it's as if the setting is another character in the story. Anderson’s movies tend to take place in a universe of their own, from the school in Rushmore (1998) and the family home in The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) to the underwater world of The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (2004) and even the outdoor home of Fantastic Mr. Fox in the 2009 animated tale. This film may be Anderson’s most fully realized world to date, with beautiful production design, and a great visual look for the characters (including fabulous costume design by Kasia Walicka-Maimone) & locations, right down to the covers of the (fictional) books Suzy brings with her, and the drawings that Sam does of his true love.

I admit that Anderson’s stories can be an acquired taste; in fact, it took me until The Royal Tenenbaums (his third film), to fully embrace his style. Tenenbaums has become a personal favorite of mine, and I highly recommend that film as a starting point for getting into & appreciating Anderson’s world. In a way, I'd compare his films to the fiction of John Irving, author of The World According to Garp and The Hotel New Hampshire. Both artists have their own storytelling style, and introduce us to characters & stories that are unusual, and yet have a lot of feelings & emotions in common with our own. Sam & Suzy (like many of Anderson's other characters in this film, and his others) are fully realized people, who aren't different or quirky just for the story's sake; this is just how they are, and Anderson celebrates that fact, along with their atypical worldview. Moonrise Kingdom is unlike any other movie you’ll see this year. Highly recommended if you’re looking for something different, or are already an Anderson fan. The film is currently finishing it’s run in theaters, and will be released on video on October 16.

Here's a link to the trailer for the film:

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