REVIEW: Wes Anderson is known for his cutesy, whimsical takes on family life, but this is the first time the kids are at the centre of it all. Whereas The Royal Tenenbaums covered the lugubrious antics of an angsty Ben Stiller, emo Gwyneth Paltrow (even before there were emos) and their dysfunctional parents, and The Darjeeling Limited had three odd brothers trying to get to know one another on a trip around India, in his latest family melodrama Anderson takes us down a decade to the world of Sam and Suzy.
Sam is a reluctant Khaki scout, fully aware of his unpopularity in the troup, who decides one day to make a break for freedom. Suzy is the misunderstood eldest child of lawyer parents (Frances McDormand and Anderson regular, Bill Murray - honestly, is he on contract??) who speak to one another as if in court ("I concur, counsellor") and search for guidance within the pages of "Coping with the Very Troubled Child". Little wonder that Suzy decides to run away with Sam.
Anderson's style is, as ever, filled with trinkets and bursts of delightful music, sweeping camera work and exaggerated close-ups, as he fills his 1965-set world with all the hallmarks of a children's story book. Suzy and her brothers listen to a modern (at the time) battery-powered record player, playing and replaying Benjamin Britten's wonderful Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra, as we all did our own favourite tapes and stories. When off to build a hut (or run away to start a new life) who didn't pack up their favourite books and prized possessions?
Cleverly, it's the empassioned opening cadences of Britten that set the tone and raise our excitement as the film begins, the story getting swiftly underway as Edward Norton's dedicated Scout Leader performs camp inspection with a cigarette dangling from his lips. As the troop is sent off on their mission to find the kid they don't even like, our little road movie begins (albeit on foot. And through woods).
The film is filled to overflowing with core Anderson cast (my favourite cameo Jason Schwartzman's meddlesome but obliging Cousin Ben) adding Bruce Willis as the kindly police captain, and the ubiquitous Tilda Swinton in air hostess get-up as Social Services. It's somewhat too much as there isn't enough substance to be shared among the top-notch cast, but my goodness they'll have had a good time making the film.
In fact, there is so much of everything that's clever and cute (including the courtship dialogue in the two excellent first-time performances by the young leads) you are best to just sit back and try to take in as much as you can.
Moonrise Kingdom is style over substance, and disappointingly not the sum of its myriad stunning parts, but it is nonetheless an enjoyable feast that at least won't leave you feeling stuffed.
* Sarah Watt is the Sunday Star Times film reviewer. Read her blog here.
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