DVD review: Moonrise Kingdom

Moonrise Kingdom

(PG) ****

Director: Wes Anderson.

Cast: Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, Frances McDormand, Bill Murray.

IF you like Wes Anderson and his notoriously whimsical style of offbeat comedy, you'll love Moonrise Kingdom.

If you don't appreciate Anderson's previous efforts, particularly The Darjeeling Limited and The Royal Tenenbaums, then steer clear.

As with those two films, Moonrise Kingdom touches on the effect a family (or the lack of one) can have on a young person.

Here it's on two misfit kids who are drawn to each other, and the naive romance between Sam (Gilman) and Suzy (Hayward) forms the sweet centre of this film as we follow their efforts to run away together.

Sam is fleeing his Khaki Scout troup, led by the hapless Scout Master Randy (Norton), while Suzy is running away from her family, particularly her parents (Murray and McDormand), who have drifted apart but are united by their concerns for Suzy's mental state.

Leading the search is Captain Sharp (Willis), the lonely and lone police officer on the island of New Penzance, assisted by Sam's disturbingly sociopathic fellow scouts.

Anderson's habit of creating a believable (or at least likeable) hyper-reality are in full effect - we see the Khaki Scouts build an impossible treehouse for example, and his use of an onscreen narrator is novel. His idiosyncratic camera moves (the movie is full of sideways tracking shots and slow pans), his shot composition (Anderson loves symmetry), and his eccentric background details (particularly a kid who starts trampolining behind an inaudible conversation) only add to this world and the movie's unique tone.

This hyper-reality exists on a knife's edge however, and towards it's end, Moonrise Kingdom tips too far into the unbelievable zone, most notably when one character gets struck by lightning.

Gilman and Hayward's performances are stilted and subdued but hilarious and work in well with Anderson's trademake tone, while Norton, Murray and McDormand are also superb (as are Harvey Keitel, Tilda Swinton and Anderson regular Jason Schwarzman in small roles).

But the best turn comes from Willis, who gives his most interesting performance since 12 Monkeys. His is the most intriguing character, managing to be both authoritative yet browbeaten, and a lonely soul yet the emotional core of the film. Even the fact that his character is supposedly "dumb" and that Anderson and co-writer Roman Coppola are incapable of writing "dumb" doesn't distract from Willis' tender performance.

The disfunctional family may have been better explored by Anderson in The Darjeeling Limited and The Royal Tenenbaums, as this beloved theme of Anderson's is more of a sidebar or springboard to the main story of Moonrise Kingdom.

And that main story is something new for the quirky director. At its heart, Moonrise Kingdom is a sweet and surprising love story with a healthy twist of typically warped humour.

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