Moonrise Kingdom: “Revel in the artificiality!”

Wes Anderson’s films always have a sense of existing outside of time, in an indefinably old-fashioned present. It makes a perverse sort of sense, then, that when he finally made one set in the 1960s it stood out for not having the Kinks and the Rolling Stones on the soundtrack. Moonrise Kingdom – released here on Blu-Ray by Criterion UK – opens instead with Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward) marching through her house to set up a portable record player – so similar to Margot Tenenbaum’s – and listen to Benjamin Britten’s The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra.

Britten is a recurrent theme in Moonrise Kingdom: later on, Suzy appears in a production of Noye’s Fludd. It might just be a hangover from Anderson’s previous film Fantastic Mr. Fox, where he, composer Alexandre Desplat and music supervisor Randall Poster spent a long time thinking about music aimed at children. It also offers a way to read Anderson’s work, with its cross-section sets, wilfully artificial shot composition and camera movements that feel like they were planned using a protractor. If Britten is introducing his child audience to the construction of an orchestra, Anderson is introducing his to the construction of a film, inviting us to revel in the artificiality and share in his satisfaction at getting everything just so.

… revel in the artificiality

and share in

[Wes Anderson’s]

satisfaction at getting

everything just so.

Fantastic Mr. Fox, like Anderson’s later Isle of Dogs, may be aimed at children but its lead voice actors are adults, leaving Moonrise Kingdom as the director’s only film starring child performers. Hayward and Jared Gilman (as Sam, her love interest) acquit themselves very well in the lead roles, and it’s fun to return to the film and realise Sam’s bully Redford is played by Lucas Hedges, now an Oscar season fixture in films like Manchester by the Sea, Lady Bird and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Gilman and Hayward have also had some notable later roles, and their status as an iconic screen couple was reinforced when Jim Jarmusch reunited them for a scene in Paterson. Gilman, in particular, grasps Anderson’s slippery, ultra-dry sense of humour instinctively. His response to Hayward asking him if his deceased dog was a good boy is one of my favourite one-liners in Anderson’s canon.

Is it aimed at children, though? It has a 12A certificate – the only one for an Anderson film – positioning it appropriately on the borderline between child and adult. Listening to Anderson talk about his inspiration, particularly on this disc’s commentary, you are struck by how often he talks about childhood memories. Yet it’s hard to know what child viewers would make of the amount of time we spend with the adults, particularly Frances McDormand and Bill Murray as Sara’s divorcing parents. Any parents in the audience, meanwhile, will probably need anxiety medication to cope with the scenes of Sam and Sara on the run, a pre-teen Bonnie and Clyde who pierce each others’ ears, slow-dance in their underwear and get into all kind of dangerous scrapes up to and including being hit by lightning.

Despite all this, it feels like a warm, innocent film, perhaps even more so than Anderson’s films normally do. He pushes some of his tics to breaking point – this Blu-Ray makes it clear that it is his yellowest film – but the loving acceptance he extends to his characters, the thing that makes his movies more than just dolls-houses inhabited by weirdly-dressed mannequins, is stronger than ever. Edward Norton, making his first appearance in an Anderson film as Sam’s scoutmaster, talks in the extras about wanting to find a director who treated his cast like a theatre troupe, rather than contractors brought in for individual scenes. The behind-the-scenes iPhone videos he contributes to this disc make it clear he found it.

The behind-the-scenes material, in general, keeps up the same larky tone as the movie. Murray does a set tour where he genially makes fun of his co-star Bruce Willis for playing another cop – “typecast”, he shrugs. Yet no other director would ask Willis to play a cop like Moonrise Kingdom‘s melancholy, Hank Williams-loving Captain Sharp, just as no other director would imagine Harvey Keitel as the commander of the Boy Scouts of America. It’s easy to imagine Anderson and his co-writer Roman Coppola laughing at these ideas, but they invite you into their world effectively enough to make you feel as though you’re sharing their private joke.

MOONRISE KINGDOM IS OUT NOW ON CRITERION COLLECTION BLU-RAY (UK)

Graham Williamson

Writer, podcaster and short film-maker, Graham fell in love with cinema when he saw Kyle MacLachlan find an ear in the long grass in Blue Velvet. He hasn't looked back since (Graham, not Kyle). His writing has been published in Northern Correspondent and he appears on The Geek Show's Cinema Eclectica and Literary Loitering podcasts. He was once described as "the only person who could get a Godard reference into a review of the bloody Blue Lagoon".

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