(Published in The Sunday Guardian, on 23 September 2012, retrieved from http://www.sunday-guardian.com/masala-art/scouting-for-attention)
Cast: Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray and others
Director: Wes Anderson
Rating: 4.5 stars
Maybe it’s the serious expressions of everyone in the Bishop household; maybe it’s the fact that a home run military style, complete with a loudspeaker to announce meals, shouldn’t house so many slobs; maybe it’s because the misfits in the film are always neatly turned-out. But from the word go, you’re laughing at all the wrong times in Moonrise Kingdom. Yet, it seems the film demands that. Couched in a soft palette of pastel shades and delicate hues, it forces us to confront cruelty, loneliness, and compromise in a fantastical world that feels strangely suffocated by reality.
It’s 1965, and we’re on an island that appears to be populated only by the characters in this film. Our guide is an eccentric narrator (Bob Balaban), who pops up every now and again with reporter-on-site style weather updates, reinforcing the idea that we can’t help but imbue the forecast with significance vis-à-vis the lives of the characters.
The film is loaded with contradictions. Solemn occasions look ridiculous, and ridiculous ones solemn; characters don’t die when you expect them to, and die when you’re sure they won’t; children display their maturity when adults get petty. And all of this is infused with the innocence of a fable. Yet, this is a dreamscape where even intelligent kids will stick their fingers in electric sockets, where we sense the frustration of some characters when others insist on conforming to nonsensical rules.
With stylised moves, minimal dialogue, and quirky music, the film embraces the bizarre. Try this exchange: “Does it concern you that your daughter’s missing?” “That’s a loaded question.” At its simplest, Moonrise Kingdom is a growing-up story – of Sam (Jared Gilman), of Suzy (Kara Hayward), of Scoutmaster Ward (Edward Norton), of Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis). At its most complicated, it questions the meaning of love, comfort, responsibility, morality, friendship and family ties.
Wes Anderson's signature style is to play on the subtle moments - a cadet pushing open the door after everyone else has squeezed through the gap, a sudden pause and shake of the head, a cat's meow at just the right time, a stamp of the foot that nearly kills everyone, a kid jumping on a trampoline in the background as two other people are making what they think is the most important decision of their lives. Here, the music deserves special mention - it's incredible how Hank Williams and one operatic piece can drive an entire film.
I doubt there’s ever been an ensemble cast where everyone has so much to do, especially when the kernel of the story is the approach of adolescence, and its accompanying restlessness, uncertainty and curiosity. Pragmatic issues like custody are raised by a wacky character known only as Social Services (Tilda Swinton).
The delightful mix of the impractical and the sensible, so reflective of the movie, is best illustrated by the contents of a runaway duo’s luggage. Indeed, there are moments when we wonder whether the entire film may be a daydream, especially when we find out where it got its name.
The Verdict: A charming film that makes us nostalgic for a time when we could escape into stories, when our imagined worlds seemed more real than our daily lives.