Moonrise Kingdom, the highly-anticipated film from director/screenwriter Wes Anderson—his first live action movie in five years—reaffirms that nothing else looks or sounds quite like an Anderson film: he is utterly original and relentlessly inventive, from his wry, deadpan wit and absurdist charm to his often static, mid-range-shot tableaux.
It’s 1965, a time of Davy Crockett coonskin caps and saddle shoes. Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman), a 12-year-old Khaki Scout, runs away from Camp Ivanhoe with his pen-pal Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward). From her wanderlust to her smudged eye shadow, Suzy is a baby Gwyneth Paltrow in a training bra (literally). Like Sam, Suzy is an unpopular, slightly odd kid, who listens to Françoise Hardy records on her portable record player and does everything but smoke Gauloises and don Margot’s (Paltrow’s character in The Royal Tenenbaums) ratty fur coat. The rapid-fire montage of the pen pals’ overlapping, slightly formal correspondence is priceless; it’s The Wonder Years on acid.
“I wanted to tell a story that would recreate the feeling of falling in love for the first time as a young person,” Anderson told us. “I thought if we had characters that take it very, very seriously and see it through and are determined to stay with it, that might take it to an interesting place.” Anderson was in fifth grade when he fell in love for the first time. “She was someone that everyone was sort of in love with. I remember on Valentine’s Day, we had little white paper bags that everyone got to put their Valentine’s cards in and hers was overflowing with cards and gifts and a gold necklace! So I wasn’t exactly the only one. I never got to know her that well, but I do have a feeling that she was [a free spirit] a bit.”
If The Royal Tenenbaums was told in storybook form, Moonrise Kingdom is structured as a series of paintings (Sam is a watercolor artist), as characters often talk to the camera in the foreground, with ancillary action (such as annoying little brothers) or houses (like American Gothic) in the background. Of the distinctive camera angle, Anderson said, “I think maybe it’s using deeper focus type photography, which is kind of an old-fashioned way to shoot things, a bit of an old Hollywood approach.”
The fictional island of New Penzance floats in a sea of irony, from Edward Norton’s earnest scout master to Jason Schwartzman’s canteen despot to Tilda Swinton’s “Social Services,” swooping in with her Salvation Army-style cape and vaguely menacing threats of electroshock therapy. Bill Murray (who has appeared in every Anderson film since 1998’s Rushmore) and Frances McDormand play Suzy’s parents, two lawyers who sleep in separate beds, refer to each other as “Counselor” and discuss their tattered marriage in terms of damages incurred.
“I feel my tone is consistent from movie to movie,” said Anderson. “The thing it’s closest to is handwriting. It does relate to your personality and it evolves over time. But you’re not really conscious of how it’s evolving and it’s automatic when you do it. To change it is something you’d have to make a particular effort to do.”
As always, God is in the odd details of an Anderson film. The equivalent of the Tenebaums’ dalmatian mice include a treehouse as tall as a skyscraper, McDormand addressing her family with a megaphone, the brandishing of lethal left-handed scissors, and the giant weapons carried by the scout troop—which is told to use no force. Anderson’s precisely detailed films are like the childhood puzzles where you have to find as many mistakes as possible; his visual vocabulary is punctuated by weird-isms and inside jokes, just waiting to be discovered by the viewer.
Given the honor of opening the Cannes Film Festival on May 16, the Moonrise Kingdom premiere was Anderson’s first time at Cannes. “We had our whole cast, except for Frances McDormand, and a lot of my friends and collaborators were there, so it was very exciting,” he told us. “The actual opening event is such a gigantic thing with huge crowds. I’ve never quite been to anything like that. We spontaneously had to go onstage and say something in French, which we were not really prepared for, but it was really quite thrilling.”
Anderson lives in New York’s East Village, but also has an apartment in Paris. The French have increasingly influenced his work, from Hotel Chevalier, the companion short film to The Darjeeling Limited, to the prominent use of the song “Le Temps de l’amour,” by ‘60’s style and music icon Françoise Hardy in Moonrise Kingdom. The films of François Truffaut, always a major influence on Anderson, have particular resonance in Moonrise Kingdom. “Truffaut did wonderful work with very young people in The 400 Blows, The Wild Child, and Small Change. Those were all inspirations for me for this movie,” said Anderson. “And the Françoise Hardy song—the scene in the movie was sort of written to the music; the idea for the scene came from that song.”
Currently, Anderson said, “I’m most inspired by a succession of European novels that I’ve been reading. In particular, Stefan Zweig [the early 20th-century Austrian novelist and friend of Sigmund Freud].” Anderson has completed the screenplay for his next film, which he told us is neither a family story or a romance, unlike most of his other films. “It’s going to be set maybe in Eastern Europe, if it works out, towards the end of this year,” he said.
For anyone who ever suffered through scouting, sleepaway camp or just plain 6th grade, Moonrise Kingdom returns you to that time when you felt like the most different kid in the world. Except for the iconoclastic boy who was your kindred spirit.
Moonrise Kingdom expands in theaters throughout the US this June.