Average for Anderson: reach for the moon again, Wes

Writer-Director Wes Anderson (Royal Tenembaums, The Life Aquatic) has one of the most distinct voices working in cinema today. Most of that is down to a unique visual style that he introduced with his debut Bottle Rocket and its follow up Rushmore, and which he has been carefully cultivating ever since. The overall impression is quirky and playful, yet heavily ordered. His aesthetic is often filtered through an autumnal palette of ‘70s kitsch, so that regardless of the time period, something of that era flavours everything from costume to camera. This is true even of his foray into stop-motion animation, The Fantastic Mr Fox, which despite appearances was, with its familial dysfunctions and retro aesthetic, still very much a Wes Anderson film.

Anderson regular, Bill Murray, an unwitting love rival to Bruce Willis’s lonely washed-up cop whose ship with Murray’s missis (the ever reliable Frances McDormand) has long since set. Set on a small New England island in the ‘60s, word comes from a nearby scout camp that a young orphan teenager, Sam (Gilman), has gone AWOL. Furthermore, on notifying Sam’s foster-parents of the boy’s disappearance, the scout master (played with rapturous aplomb by Ed Norton in his most memorable role in years) is told that young Sam would not be welcome should he return home to them and that the authorities should seek new accommodation for the boy via social services. At the same time, we learn the bishops’ daughter, Suzy, has run away from home. It soon becomes clear that the pair have eloped together. With most of the island on their trail, the teenage couple trek deeper into the wilderness, unaware that a storm of historical proportions is approaching …

Oddly for a comedy, there are very few outright laughs. That’s the way with Anderson: the short bursts of concise rapid fire dialogue are designed to provoke not so much belly laughs, but rather a succession of knowing smiles. It’s a kind of quirky conservatism − Undeniably effective, the audience wears perpetual grins and fixed half-smiles, forever perched on the precipice of laughter. In the absence of dialogue, there’s always the beautiful design and the carefully composed single point perspectives to marvel at. The cast is uniformly brilliant − Murray and McDormand are trusted hands, while Swinton, Willis and Norton make the best of their screen time. However, it’s newcomers Gilman and Hayward who lend the production genuine charm and some emotional depth.

Although undoubtedly confirming Anderson as a meticulous master craftsman once again, Moonrise Kingdom starts to raise questions about the substance of his cinema. Mid-way, the film runs out of steam, although it picks up pace again for the final stretch. It’s fashionable entertainment for sure and will no doubt please Anderson’s considerable fan-base, but under all the bells and whistles, is it just another coming of age, feel-good romcom − even a faintly insincere one at that? It’s doubtful that the structure could hold up without Anderson’s unique presentation. Anderson’s eccentric brand of artifice is like Marmite and as such, the question of its worth can only be a subjective one. His stylistic idiosyncrasies are central to his appeal and his cinema wouldn’t exist without them. After his stop-motion outing, this is again familiar territory for Anderson, and I for one, while glad that his unique voice is out there, would like to see something truly surprising emerge from his cinematic stable next time.

Moonrise Kingdom (7)

Dir: Wes Anderson;

US comedy, 2012, 94 mins;

Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances MacDormand, Bruce Willis, Tilda Swinton, Jared Gilman, Katy Howard
Premieres September 13

Playing nationwide