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FILM REVIEW: Moonrise Kingdom

Categories: Movies

There is a piano in Moonrise Kingdom that's painted a particular shade of red: not fire engine red, not maroon, nor burgundy. It's a deep and specific shade that could only exist on the New England island of New Penzance, in a three-storey house occupied by the liberal-minded Walt and Laura Bishop and their small army of children.

That red piano suits the Bishop's house as perfectly as the patchwork pants worn by Bill Murray. Endearing outfits combined with Murray can only mean one thing: welcome back to the world of Wes Anderson.

Since bursting onto the scene with the hapless heist film Bottle Rocket in 1996, Anderson has been refining his handcrafted view of the world. He certainly has his detractors. "Twee" and "whimsical" are words lobbed at him like spitballs. Now, these critics better rearm themselves because Moonrise Kingdom is the most Andersonian film to date.

In his earlier titles The Royal Tenenbaums and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, we were in the realm of the man-child: think of Murray storming a pirate ship or the constantly bickering Tenenbaums. But with Moonrise, Anderson inverts the equation and gives us children who are mini grown-ups, in particular two 12-year-old outcasts in love: Sam and Suzy.

Sam is a square peg who can't fit into the orderly life of the Khaki Scouts, an outdoorsy Boy Scouts offshoot led by a cigarette-puffing Scout Master Ward. Portrayed by Edward Norton, Ward has the crew functioning like his own personal Rube Goldberg machine -- there are preteen chefs, stewards and engineers. Sam, an orphan who never learned the art of social camouflage, can't find a role. Instead, he focuses his attention on Suzy Bishop, a morose, beautiful girl who hides her peacock-painted eyes behind an ever-present pair of binoculars.

Sam spots Suzy, dressed in a bird costume, at an adorkable production about Noah's Ark. With his brown plastic glasses and round face, he looks like an American Adrian Mole. But the awkward British teen never had Sam's self-confidence. When another bird girl tells him "Boys aren't allowed here," he stands his ground like Humphrey Bogart and sets her straight with a blunt "I'll be leaving soon."

Anderson's world is an enchanting place to visit. Set in 1965, Moonrise is a diorama of a simpler time, filled with portable record players, campfire jamborees and mail delivered by float plane. The adults here are ruined, spent forces. Bill Murray and Frances McDormand play the Bishops, two lawyers exhausted by a loveless marriage. Bruce Willis is Captain Sharp, the island's loneliest policeman. Even capable Scout Master Ward has a crisis of conscience when young Sam flies the coop to join Suzy.

While the adults are a mess, however, Anderson shows us the unlimited potential of the children. They're not the kids we were, they're the kids we wish we could have been: capable of bold action, passionate and resourceful. Against a flotsam of wasted lives, Sam and Suzy glow with potential (like a certain couple from Anderson's last effort.)

Wes AndersonDirector Wes Anderson on location for Moonrise Kingdom. (Niko Tavernise/eOne Films)

Yes, Moonrise is packed with the visual ticks that have become Anderson's cinematic signature: characters centred perfectly in the frame, faded colours of which Instagram could only dream. Slate Magazine has even created a game of Wes Anderson Bingo for knowing viewers to play along. But since when is having a sense of style or of mise-en-scène a crime?

This time around, Anderson raises the stakes and cuts the sugary-sweetness with his frank look at young love. Sam faces exile. Blood is spilled. Clothes are shed. When our young Romeo and Juliet strip down to their underwear, the way they stumble is part of what makes the couple seem so real.

And few other filmmakers could inspire chuckles with a single, well-composed shot. Anderson has a defeated Bill Murray slump against a half-chopped tree, for instance. Or perhaps his moment after the thrilling climax of a hurricane, when he cuts to the gnome-like Bob Balaban standing before a squashed Volkswagen -- a perfect release to a moment of high drama. This is the real music of Moonrise Kingdom: a kiss of danger followed by a laugh.

RATING: 5 out of 5

Kara Kayward, Jared GilmanNewcomers Kara Hayward, left, and Jared Gilman star as Suzy and Sam in Wes Anderson’'s new film Moonrise Kingdom. (eOne Films)

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