By Sarah Jost
Watching the title sequence of Wes Anderson’s new film Moonrise Kingdom is like peering into a dollhouse, as though the family home on screen has been cut in half and you can suddenly see what all of its inhabitants are doing. In one room, a little boy is setting up his record player. In another, the father is reading the paper. Though the set is life-size, it still somehow seems like the actors are miniatures waiting for a child to scoop them up to play with.
Every aspect of the film is infused with this whimsical quality, from the intricately detailed costume design by Kasia Walicka-Maimone to the nostalgic, comical, and sometimes surreal production design and set decoration by Adam Stockhausen and Kris Moran, respectively. Within the first five minutes of the film, something gave me the impression of a puppet show, and the heavy use of felt and squared-off action throughout the film told me that I must not have been far off from discerning a visual and elemental inspiration for the film.
When orphaned khaki scout Sam and misunderstood miscreant Suzy run away together into the woods of fictional New Penzance, Suzy’s parents (Francis McDormand and Bill Murray), Sam’s khaki scout master (Ed Norton), and the local police caption (Bruce Willis) set about to track them down. Anderson somehow manages to convey both the feeling of being young and in love and not having adults understand, and how overly serious young people can sometimes take themselves, without ever belittling the kids’ feelings. It is clear that their love is real, but it is also clear that they are at times playing at being adults.
Auteur Anderson’s classic stylisation is ever-present, creating a 1965 world that is at once so familiar and so surreal. My grandfather was a boy scout leader in the 1950s and 60s, and everything from the costumes to the camping equipment brought me right back to my childhood, looking through his scout gear. The costuming, set decoration, and prop minutiae were exquisitely true to the period, yet self-reflexive things such as the narration by the gnome-like Bob Balaban and Bruce Willis’s comically tiny police badge are constant reminders to view the story and all of the artistic components being used to tell it from a intellectual as well as emotional viewpoint.
In addition the costume design and production design, Anderson’s writing and directing are interesting, creative, and funny. The same can be said of Ed Norton’s, Francis McDormand’s, and Bill Murray’s acting choices. Norton in particular created a character with an undeniably likable combination of geekiness and charm. He made himself as stylised as the rest of the film, and it worked beautifully. Another stand out performance was the brief but hilarious appearance by Jason Schwartzman as an older scout.
The only disappointment for me was the acting of newcomers Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman. Hayward’s black eyeliner (a la Margot Tenenbaum) does most of the acting for her, and most of what she does for herself seems out of character, perhaps because it never feels like she truly develops one. Gilman’s delivery of writers Anderson and Roman Coppola’s great lines is often slightly off, though he always looks just right for the part.
First time actors aside, the film has a sentimental air that grabs your heart from the opening sequence and doesn’t let go until the credits begin to roll. Anderson’s films always seem like passion projects, and its hard not to love something it’s obvious was created with so much excitement and care.