Sunday, 8 July 2012

Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

This morning my boyfriend and I argued over whether Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson, 2012) technically qualifies as a "cult" film and, in turn, whether I should review it. BF thinks my one-time "horror review blog" is rather lax about its content. I admit that the "official" Black Cat Reviews byline -- "horror, thriller, sci-fi, grindhouse and cult hits and misses" -- doesn't leave a lot of room for a quirky semi-romance set in the mid-Sixties. But Wes Anderson is sort of indie... and indie is sort of cult... right? Right? More to the point, this is my movie blog and I'm going to review whatever the crap I want on it. I figure if a movie's piqued my interest, it must already be pretty weird. So buckle up, here's Moonrise Kingdom.


One raccoon was harmed in the making of this film.

Suzy (Kara Hayward) is a sullen tween living with her family in their summer home on a remote New England island. Sam (Jared Gilman) is an outcast Khaki Scout camping with his troop only a few miles away. The two met a year ago when Sam crashed Suzy's dressing room at a church pageant; they've been pen-pals since, brainstorming a way to escape from their suffocating lives. At the beginning of Moonrise Kingdom, the elaborate jailbreak the duo planned is put into action: they flee into the forest, determined to live together as man and wife beyond society's grasp. As might be expected, this plan works better in Sam and Suzy's dreams than it does in reality, and they subsequently have to contend with anxious parents, uptight scoutmasters, the island police, a torrential thunderstorm and Social Services herself before everything miraculously comes right and they're allowed to stay together (more or less).

I'm not any kind of Wes Anderson fanatic -- I find the pastels and poker-faced frontal shots to be a bit twee -- but his style was never more suited to his story than in Moonrise Kingdom. Anderson's whimsical touch captures the nostalgia factor of 1965 (bonjour, Francoise!) and the dying embers of Sam and Suzy's childhoods -- like Peter Pan and Wendy Darling, they are teetering on the edge of adolescence, frightened of growing up. Rather than distracting from the action, Anderson's typically idiosyncratic approach seems the only correct way to tell this story.

Moonrise Kingdom's cast is unexpected, but note-perfect. If someone told me that a summer movie featured Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Tilda Swinton and Harvey Keitel, I would assume it was a Die Hard reboot or something. But everyone's playing against type, and it works beautifully: Bruce Willis is a hangdog, puppy-eyed island cop having an affair with Suzy's mother, Edward Norton is the dedicated math teacher/scoutmaster who must recover Sam or lose his official scoutmaster badge. Anderson has some serious cheek, asking Hollywood A-listers to play second fiddle to his newbie stars (it's the first film for both Gilman and Hayward), but it works. The stellar ensemble acts as a safety net for the kids, whose occasionally awkward performances are bolstered by their experienced costars.

Moonrise Kingdom gets a 4/5. It's sweetly forgettable, inoffensive, easily liked. You can bring your mom or your boyfriend: they'll both enjoy it. Just BE WARNED that a puppy dies. I'm telling you now so that no one goes to see Moonrise Kingdom on my advice and comes back being like "YOU NEVER SAID A PUPPY DIED!" I'm saying it now, people. If puppy death is a dealbreaker, then this is not the movie for you.

Would you buy Girl Guide cookies from this woman?
SCENE STEALER: Tilda Swinton's character, known only as "Social Services", is exactly what would happen if Narnia's White Witch got a day job as a social worker -- Social Services' idea of "helping" Sam is suggesting he be sent to juvie for enforced electroshock therapy. Swinton plays her with clipped, chipper precision, all tight smiles, raised eyebrows, and steely blue-eyed gazes. It shouldn't come as a shock to anyone that Tilda Swinton is a standout: I don't know that she's ever turned in a bad performance. But even as part of an ensemble cast made up entirely of art school favorites, she shines. I don't know what's up with the Girl Guide-esque outfit, though, unless Anderson is trying to make us subconsciously recall our own childhood traumas.

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