Existential qualms already trouble Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward) when she discovers a pamphlet in her family kitchen: “Coping With A Troubled Child”. The new indie flick from director Wes Anderson combines the infinite imagination of the young with his classic commentary on the fragility of family relations.
Suzy has been keeping in touch with her penpal (how quaint), 12-year-old boy-scout and orphan, Sam Shakusky (played by Jared Gilman) after the pair met at a school play. Their correspondences eventuate into a plan to flee the unremarkable town and a disorderly search party follows.
The stylised cinematography portrays (Shakespeare-style) a place imagined yet realistic—New Penzance Island. The film captures the spirit of 1965 with the ‘Wes Anderson aesthetic’ recreating subdued sepia tones, individualistic costumes and existential dialogue: “Does it concern you that your daughter has just run away from home?” “That’s a loaded question.”
We begin with three young boys listening to Benjamin Britten’s “The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra” on a retro portable record player. Anderson’s swift camera movement from room to room draws attention to the fact that we’re indulging in a story. There’s something both innocent and considered in the young serious characters who don’t say more than they need to.
A light-hearted touch comes from the eccentric narration (by Bob Balaban), an old man in a beanie placed sporadically in various locations around the island. It’s these sorts of disruptions that put Anderson’s work somewhere between a film and a play. It’s a pleasant viewing experience. Filmed mostly on Rhode Island we’re exposed in wide shots of picturesque untouched nature and dollhouse buildings.
I was reminded of Peter Pan, not only from the mirroring escapade to exotic island, but by Suzy’s character, especially when she reads a story to the scouts perched around her, fascinated, à la Wendy and the Lost Boys. Her use of binoculars is her interpretation of a ‘magic power’, an endearing thought. She’s a disturbed quiet young girl, not unlike Margot Tenenbaum, from Anderson’s 2001 film.
My favourite scene is when the kids set up camp by an enclosed pebble-lined beach, a Chickasaw sacred site. They strip to their retro underwear, put on Francoise Hardy’s dreamy “Le Temps de L’amour” and dance. And learn to kiss. And feel each other up. It’s a bit awkward considering their pre-pubescent age but it’s sweet in a way.
Kudos to Bruce Willis- playing policeman Captain Shark, yet far from the usual tough guy act, as a sad vulnerable man. Anderson regulars Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman are included – Murray as Suzy’s strict yet disillusioned father and Schwartzman a Cousin Ben, quirky scout leader. Tilda Swinton also makes an appearance, as uptight suited ‘Social Services’ bringing hilarity to a serious issue, in her own style.
The great part about centering a story on two kids is that for just under two hours we can suspend disbelief and escape with them. Fictional yet realistic, Moonrise Kingdom’s fantastical take on the world asks the simplest yet most important questions.