American indie auteur Wes Anderson returns to live action filmmaking this year with Cannes opener Moonrise Kingdom (2012), a typically quirky offering that partially manages to break free of its mawkish trappings for a sweet(ish) tale of childhood romance. Anderson regulars Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman are joined here by a somewhat hit-and-miss ensemble cast of players, including Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, Frances McDormand and Tilda Swinton.
Set during the summer of 1965, Anderson’s latest begins in a scout encampment on an island situated off the coast of New England. Socially awkward, picked-upon orphan Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) goes AWOL from the rest of the brigade, leaving his post in order to be reunited with his beloved Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward), whom he met at an amateur Benjamin Britten production the previous year.
Tracked by Scout Master Ward (Norton), Police Captain Sharp (Willis) and a troop of resourceful – if vindictive – boy scouts, Sam and Suzy make for the inlet idyll referred to as ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ before inevitably being caught. Separated and miserable, the two star-crossed lovers both have to face up to their respective life issues; Suzy is prone to violent outbursts and feels constricted by her unhappily-married, regimental lawyer parents (Murray and McDormand), whilst Sam has to come to terms with rejection from his previous foster parents as the sinister shadow of Social Services (Swinton) looms large.
Moonrise Kingdom fills the void somewhere between Anderson’s very best (1998’s Rushmore) and very worst work (2007’s The Darjeeling Limited). There are flashes of both brilliance and repetitiveness throughout his latest piece, with saving graces ultimately stemming from tried-and-tested past successes – namely, some snappy lines of dialogue, neat framing and a killer soundtrack, full of Britten-infused operatic overtones. This is perhaps best illustrated during a tumultuous storm scene, Suzy’s single-bedded parents staring up at the ceiling as Britten’s Old Abram Brown is Dead and Gone whirls a tempest of its own. “I hope the roof flies off and I get sucked up into space. You’d be better off without me”, Murray’s Walt mutters his stoic wife.
Anderson’s staunchest critics will be less than enthused by the director’s constant aesthetic and thematic regurgitation – even self-confessed fans may find their patience stretched at points here. Still, Moonrise Kingdom just about stands up as a worthwhile folly, an ode to 20th century British classical composers and chic khaki outfits that somehow muddles its way through to a silver-lined, bitter-sweet (naturally) conclusion.