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Moonrise Kingdom


Stars: Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, Bruce Willis, Frances McDormand, Bill Murray, Bob Balaban, Tilda Swinton, Edward Norton, Jason Schwartzman, Harvey Keitel

Director: Wes Anderson

Wes Anderson is a hallowed cult director and to be admired as such. Which means that in many critical quarters, assessing any of his films as anything less than masterworks by a great auteur may be an act of cultural vandalism.

So be it.

I tried to like Moonrise Kingdom but unfortunately it didn’t take long for irritation at his eccentric (I really am trying to be fair) style of filmmaking to set in, followed by an earnest desire for the increasingly wearisome and winsome show to end.

If there were an Academy Award for the Most Self-consciously Twee Picture then Anderson would probably win it in perpetuity. Moonrise Kingdom definitely deserves such an award.

It doesn’t take long for co-writer Anderson to establish his ‘unique’ auteur standing, opening with obviously studio-bound interiors, presumably to tip us off to what he sees as his uniquely cute approach to storytelling. And the story isn’t all that clever, either.

The less-than-credible cartoon-style action is set in 1965 on a island off the coast of New England where 12-year-olds Gilman and Hayward fall in love, run away and are then hunted by the authorities while a violent storm threatens to break out and the lives of the people of the island community are plunged into (allegedly comic) chaos.

The kids are found well before the film ends but that doesn’t prevent Anderson from carrying on regardless, even to the extent of introducing Keitel, giving a career-worst performance as a washed-up scout.

It could be that Anderson suffered some sort of trauma himself in the Scouts since he devotes much space to Gilman’s scout troop, led by Norton who, sporting tight shorts and a scout uniform, resembles a comic puppet character and gives a wooden performance to match.

That may be the key to the film – perhaps Anderson believed he was making a quirky cartoon using ’animated’ live human performers as protagonists and drawing cartoon-style performances from them.

If unconvincing acting was his goal, Anderson has definitely scored.

So we have Murray playing someone far too old to have young children, McDormand going over the top as a mother who uses a bullhorn to call her kids and a deeply embarrassing turn from Balaban as the ‘narrator’ who turns up all over the place to fill in holes in the narrative and dressed in increasingly silly costumes. To be fair, Swinton is well cast, her cold and charmless persona being ideally suited to the cold and charmless character of ‘social services’. Only Willis, carefully underplaying his role as the island’s police chief, emerges with any credit. It doesn’t help either, that the pre-teen hero and heroine, both of them first-time film performers, signally lack any on-screen rapport.

In the film’s defence, I did find Moonrise Kingdom a tad less irritating than, say, previous Anderson ego trips like the insufferable The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. In my defence, that’s not meant as praise.

Alan Frank

USA 2012. UK Distributor: Universal. Colour.
94 minutes. Not widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 24 May 2012