Recently, I read an article by Hadley Freeman for the Guardian stating that Wes Anderson has become the new Tim Burton: making films to such a formulaic style that it lacks any substance and the audience knows exactly what to expect. Upon reading this I felt a little angry, as in my opinion, there is nothing wrong with having a distinct style – that is what makes great directors great and recognisable, and classes them as an auteur. Admittedly, it does seem that lately Tim Burton has become a bit of a sell-out, moving into the realm of mainstream blockbusters with a gothic, if contrived twist, and Johnny Depp has become type-cast as Burton’s troubled hero. I draw the line, however, at Freeman’s claim that Bill Murray has become to Anderson what Depp is to Burton. Murray is a fantastic actor, and his roles in Anderson movies have similar characteristics, but still remain original and diverse. Unfortunately for Depp, he seems to have done so many movies with Burton that he lacks the ability to work with other directors, and although I read that he has chosen to do more kid’s films for the sake of his children, this is unfortunate for such a talented and adaptable actor as himself.
But to return to Moonrise Kingdom: criticised for being overly ‘twee’ and too similar to Anderson’s other cinematic escapades, I have to disagree. This film, is thoroughly enjoyable and utterly original. Yes, it does have the iconic Anderson style that makes him such a great director, but that is hardly a flaw: it makes him an iconic auteur. What his fans love about him, is his ability to create sets and frame shots encompassing maze-like environments that are presented like doll’s houses, with interesting scores providing constant musical stimulation, often at odds with what one expects from the scene.
The storyline is simple: Edward Norton plays Scout Master Ward, a largely incompetent yet loveable leader, who loses one of his flock, Sam (Jared Gilman). Sam, it turns out, has run away to be with his sweetheart Suzy B (Kara Hayward) and what follows is a threefold adventure, in which the children explore the magical island of New Penzance, whilst being tracked by a team of Norton’s scouts, as well as another part made up of Bruce Willis as Island Police’s Captain Sharp, and Murray and Frances McDormand as Suzy’s parents. There are some great flashback sequences too, including the letters between Suzy and Sam narrated in Anderson’s trademark level style, as well as the scene in which they first meet, with some brilliant home-made animal costumes and sets in the church play.
Anderson’s film is comparable to a modern day Goonies, although it is set in the 1960s. Like The Goonies, Moonrise Kingdom has a cast of strong child actors, all with screen presence and talent, yet they are anything but bratty and precocious: my usual problem with child stars. The central couple of Gilman and Hayward share a magical on-screen chemistry which is totally believable and presented realistically with the pre-teen awkwardness that surrounds young people of the opposite sex.
Hilarious cameos from come from acting great Harvey Keitel as the scout master, Anderson frequenter Jason Schwartzman and Tilda Swinton as ‘Social Services’. Another great cameo came from Bob Balaban as the cuddly narrator, popping up intermittently as if making his own film, while the action carried on behind him, which was a great little trick, and Bruce Willis proved once again that he is a great comic actor as well as an action hero. One of my favourites throughout the film though, was Edward Norton, who excelled in his role and embraced the absurdity of some of the later scenes, including the surreal lightning storm which almost plunged the ending into a new genre. The final scenes of the film reflect the opening sequence, a triumph in cinematography, and beautifully tie up the loose ends of the narrative.
Wes Anderson has still got it, despite what Freeman might argue.