Wes Anderson | 90 mins | TV | 1.85:1 | USA / English | 12 / PG-13
On the New England island of New Penzance in the summer of 1965, a troop of scouts at camp discover that unpopular member Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) has fled in the night. Meanwhile, on the other side of the island, troubled kid Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward) runs away from home. Unbeknownst to Sam’s scoutmaster (Edward Norton) or Suzy’s parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand), the pair of unhappy 12-year-olds have secretly plotted to disappear together. As a violent storm threatens to hit the island, the scouts and police Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis) hunt for the runaways.
A story of young love, Wes Anderson style, the writer-director has described Moonrise Kingdom as “an autobiography about something that didn’t happen”. That feels like a good way to regard the film. There’s clearly an emotional truth to Sam and Suzy’s discontented lives and their desire to connect with a like-minded individual, especially at an age when romantic feelings are beginning to emerge; but there’s no way the rest of the events — which unfold with Anderson’s typical almost-real / almost-fantastical quirkiness — actually happened. Here Anderson has found a strong marriage of form and content: his idiosyncratic, storybook style suits a narrative about inventive children on an almost-fairytale adventure. It’s like it’s been told from the kids’ point of view, with both an artistic simplicity and an exaggeration of actual events.
I’d also say it maintains Anderson’s penchant for unpredictable narrative development: it reached what I’d presumed was the endpoint a long time before the finale, spinning on in crazy new ways. If the film has a fault it’s in this part, where the entire cast engage in a runaround as the hurricane arrives and floods the island; but (to give it the benefit of the doubt) perhaps that plays more smoothly with familiarity. And I don’t know what it is that Anderson has against dogs (nor, it seems, does anyone else, bar theories), but I find myself enamoured of his work in spite of this particular foible.
Moonrise Kingdom certainly has enough else going for it to counterbalance these doubts. With golden cinematography and a story of playful, gentle adventure, Anderson has evoked innocent childhood summers of race-memory: even if you didn’t live them yourself, you kind of feel like you did. Perhaps it is, indeed, an autobiography about something that didn’t happen for anyone who ever felt like an outsider as a kid.
Moonrise Kingdom placed 18th on my list of The 20 Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2016, which can be read in full here.