When I first saw The Royal Tenembaums back in the day. I was blown away by it’s heartfelt charm, strange dry wit and carefully detailed style. It was my first Wes Anderson film, being of an age where I’d missed the Rushmore wave. I absolutely loved Tenembaums and it quickly became a firm favourite. I went back and watched Rushmore which really is fantastic and has hardly dated. (I haven’t yet seen Bottle Rocket)
Then when The Life Aquatic appeared, to very middling reviews and disappointment from some fans after three years of waiting for a follow up, I just completely went with it. Like the other two it had a great soundtrack, with Seu Jorge performing Bowie classics in Portuguese and typically deadpan performances from a strong ensemble cast, but it’s a lot more clunky and the script loses its way in parts. I do love it though and can’t say the word Jaguar without pronouncing it Jagwar.
I was incredibly let down by The Darjeeling Limited – I felt Wes’ whimsical way had become a pastiche of itself (a little like Tim Burton now). Still lots of carefully stylised sets, but no real characters for them to fill. There was less humour, more self congratulatory, self indulgent mumbling. It was soulless and it made me sad.
Fantastic Mr Fox was more likeable but still had that air of smugness. So when I heard about Moonrise Kingdom I wasn’t particularly excited, even after a brilliant trailer, I approached with caution.
Set in 1965 in New Penzance, Moonrise Kingdom is about two 12 year old outcasts (Sam and Suzi) who run away together after becoming pen pals and falling in love. It is completely covered in Wes Anderson; from the cross section set of the house and the retro-pop soundtrack, to the strangely disjointed speech patterns and offkilter wit, to the immaculate sense of detail and precision in every single shot. Thank goodness, it’s really very lovely. Bruce Willis and the usually annoyingly whiney Edward Norton both give great stand out performances. Norton is extremely funny as a Scout Master first and Maths teacher second. Brucey is very touching as a rather lonely and likeable cop. There’s also sterling work by Mr Bill Murray of course as well as Frances McDormand, Bob Balaban and Tilda Swinton.
The two kids, Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman, are super and there’s a fantastic dance scene on the beach that really made me smile. The fact that you care so much for both of them and their strange world is key, without that, this would be another beautifull looking but ultimatley empty indie film.
The thing about Moonrise is that I was never going to love it. It’s most certainly Anderson’s best film in a while and it’s actually a great deal more consistent than Aquatic. I did like it a lot but the first thing I thought was also the first thing anyone else says about it – “It’s SO Wes Anderson”. Now that’s both negative and positive but it just means he can’t surprise me anymore.
One more point. Whilst it must be true that Richard Ayoade’s Submarine draws some influences from Wes Anderson, it is impossible not to compare it with Moonrise Kingdom, both stylistically and thematically, they are incredibly similar and Submarine is a much better film with much more substance. This doesnt take away any of the enjoyment of watching Moonrise but it’s another reason I did’nt fall in love with it and it won’t be making it to any end of year lists.