By Alex Greenberger
From its opening shot, Wes Anderson’s “Moonrise Kingdom” reveals itself to be something special. The first seconds of the film present viewers with Suzy (newcomer Kara Hayward), who is currently listening to Benjamin Britten’s classically styled suite of music, “The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra,” on her record player. It only takes a few seconds for Anderson to swing the camera 45 degrees to her brothers, and then another 45 degrees to her other brothers, and then another 45 to another portion of her magnificent wooden house. And then Anderson drops the camera one floor to show her parents. The shot is one fluid movement—a spatial feat so daring and so marvelous that not even Jean-Pierre Jeunet, an enormous influence on Anderson, attempts something like it in his films.
Even if “Moonrise Kingdom” transcends Jeunet’s sweeping cinematography, Anderson still pays homage to his work, and to the filmography of Jean-Luc Godard, in his most recent film. The union of Godard and Jeunet’s work results in “Moonrise Kingdom,” a lush, potent tale of Suzy and Sam (Jared Gilman) and their romantic runaway on an island in 1965.
Godard’s mark on the film comes in the simplicity of the narrative. Anderson’s screenplay, co-written with Roman Coppola, is no less a yarn about star-crossed love than Godard’s masterpiece, “Breathless.” If there were such a thing as an American New Wave, “Moonrise Kingdom” could be labeled as such, for Anderson has taken a basic story about unrequited love and brilliantly deconstructed it. He has, as per usual, amassed an enormous cast — one that includes Tilda Swinton, Bruce Willis, Jason Schwartzman, France McDormand, Bill Murray, and Edward Norton — of quirky characters that act as accessories and nothing more. Anderson’s marvelous understanding of personal flaws manifests itself in the film’s masterful writing, though it is truly Suzy and Sam’s quest for love that the film is most concerned with. These secondary characters are a mere backdrop.
The adult foils of the film all deliver great performances, but the aesthetic of the film overshadows the actors’ work, most evidently displaying Jeunet’s influence. Anderson’s style has never been finer. Each shot of “Kingdom” is so meticulously designed and impeccably realized that the film appears painterly for the entire run time. Jeunet’s use of color tints in “Amelie” certainly winds its way into “Kingdom,” as Anderson relies on pastel colors for moments of gorgeous emotion. And because most of the film takes place in the woods or on a beach, parallels to Vincent Van Gogh’s sublime later work and Terrence Malick’s sense for nature are abundantly apparent. The result of the stylization is an almost overpowering beauty that filmmakers rarely achieve.
Never since Spike Jonze’s “Where the Wild Things Are” has a director probed the psyche of children with such a gentle, passionate touch. “Moonrise Kingdom” feels like a minor work in his oeuvre of fantastical narratives, but as a work about film, fantasy, youth, and romance, it feels righteous in every way. It’s emotional, romantic, fun, adventurous and hipster – everything an Anderson film should be.
Alex Greenberger is a staff writer. Email him at email@example.com.