Moonrise Kingdom

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A movie for every day of the year – a good one

1 August

First Scout camp, Brownsea Island, 1907

On this day in 1907, a camp organised by British national hero Lieutenant-General Baden-Powell to test the ideas he’d laid out in his book, Scouting for Boys, opened on Brownsea Island, just off the south coast of the United Kingdom. It lasted a week, and was made up of 20 or 21 boys of varying social backgrounds who spent their time camping, learning woodcraft, chivalry, lifesaving and patriotism. Each day started at 6am with Baden-Powell blowing a reveille on a kudu horn, after which the boys would have cocoa, do exercise, raise the flag and say their prayers. At 8am they had breakfast, followed by whatever subject had been chosen for that day, lunch, a siesta and then the afternoon activity. At 5pm the day would end with games, supper and a campfire, followed by prayers and bed. If they were lucky Baden-Powell would regale them with stories from his Africa campaigns. Out of this camp, deemed a success, and Baden-Powell’s book, the Scouting movement was born.

Moonrise Kingdom (2012, dir: Wes Anderson)

If the world falls into two camps – those who love Wes Anderson and those who don’t – include me firmly in the anti camp. But I make an exception for Moonrise Kingdom, which is a truly sweet story of young love tricked out in Anderson’s usual whimsy, except this time not to the point where your teeth hurt.

It’s tempting to suggest that it’s the presence of Roman Coppola as Anderson’s co-writer that makes it such a winner. But then Coppola co-wrote The Darjeeling Limited, and that had all the worst Anderson traits – too arch, no plot, self-absorbed characters. Whatever it is, what the duo do here works, maybe because they put the usual deadpan dialogue into the mouths of babes, and the disjunction is so odd that it makes everything these two – the boy scout and the pubescent girl who run away together and mobilise an entire island to find them – sound as if Noel Coward himself had written their lines and given them elocution lessons. And the effect is charming and funny. Potentially irritating, admittedly, but it never seems to tip over.

Anderson also seems to be soft-pedalling the eccentricity when it comes to both key settings – one a household in 1965, where reading, classical music, the devouring of the daily newspaper are all normal pursuits of children who haven’t yet been got at by the counterculture; the other a boy scout camp ruled over benignly by Edward Norton. Anderson shoots it all lovingly too, warm and yellow, every scene gussied up in the most extraordinarily fastidious way. Clothes, furniture, decor, it’s all been thought about right down to the last hem.

The warmth spills over into the casting, though a cool look at the names in any other context – Norton, Bruce Willis, Harvey Keitel, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton – and you might be expecting something hard-boiled, difficult or cynical. Norton’s casting as a scout master is inspired, and as with the too-earnest teenagers, throws up a “does not compute” error in the viewer that puts a smile on the face every time he turns up in his long shorts. There’s an even better long-shorts piece of casting later on… but I won’t ruin it. As for the rest, McDormand is Bill Murray’s wife and mother of the missing boy. She’s secretly having affair with local hayseed cop Bruce Willis, who at some point has to inform the local social services – in the shape of a character known only as Social Services (Tilda Swinton) – that a boy scout has disappeared and his foster parents don’t want him back.

A story of missing runaway kids and a storm coming in off the Atlantic is potentially the highest of high drama, or the shlockiest. But Anderson doesn’t play it either way. As with the against-the-grain casting he’s up to something, taking scenes familiar from a thousand films and shaping them anew. Hence that amazing moment when young Sam (Jared Gilman) is struck full-on by a bolt of lightning, thrown to the ground, and then immediately jumps up, cheerily says, “I’m OK,” and just carries on running. No one could survive that sort of electrical zap without the help of magic, surely? But magic is what Anderson, in his own unique way, is about.

Why Watch?

  • Any film with Bill Murray…
  • Harvey Keitel’s best cameo since Pulp Fiction
  • Robert Yeoman’s cinematography
  • A tender love story

Moonrise Kingdom – Watch it now at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2014

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