With a sideways-tracking shot so cheekily dry you might want to add an olive, Wes Anderson here returns to reclaim droll home turf.
We’ve seen many films under Wes Anderson’s influence: deadpan comedies of family dysfunction and/or precocious youth, from Submarine to The Art Of Getting By and Black Pond.
But his first live-action feature since 2007’s The Darjeeling Limited proves no-one ‘does’ Anderson so well as he does. Scrupulously composed but brimful of vim, this is a comeback from a director in joyous command.
We know we’re in Wes-world because the New Penzance setting is an island unto itself, like his films. The year, 1965, evokes an America of hippie naivety and political awakening, perfect for Anderson’s retro-hipster groove and interest in that innocence/experience cusp.
Twelve-year-old lovebirds – Jared Gilman’s Sam Shakusky (survival-skilled scout, bed-wetter) and Kara Hayward’s Suzy Bishop (blank-eyed fantasy-fiction aficionado) – cause a manhunt when they flee their coops to run free in the woods.
Inevitably, Bill Murray appears, but also present are flavours fresh to Anderson. The kids make fine cast newcomers, sweet and poker-faced. So do Bruce Willis as a cop, Ed Norton in shocking shorts, megaphone-packer Frances McDormand and Tilda Swinton as invading bureaucracy’s embodiment.
As scouts arm themselves to catch the runaways, Moonrise summons an unlikely thought: ‘Wes Anderson’s First Blood’. When a storm hits, it becomes his first natural disaster film.
But the director’s post-Darjeeling hiatus (Fantastic Mr Fox aside) is as good as any change; his quirks fizz with revitalised energy. The watery colours and artful compositions delight in details; ditto dialogue. Anderson’s pan has never been deader than on zingers about “beige lunatics” and bimbos.
Having forged his own world, he knows how to move in it. The storybook establishing shots are frame-worthy but the plot is never static, galvanised by brisk Britten music and split-screen exchanges.
Emotions drift between mirth and melancholy and the two are seamlessly blurred as a bare-bellied, wine-wielding Murray drifts across the screen in gob-smacking trousers. How’s that for a tragicomic image to distil adult disappointment?
Anderson doubters might moan that we saw similar in Rushmore, but an alternate view is to see Moonrise as the return of a distinct voice in wry, refined and high style. And that kind of homecoming is always worth celebrating.
Fleet, funny, impeccably orchestrated: whimsical Wes returns on top of his game. Non-fans might call it over-familiar comfort cinema but with the craft so loving and new elements so well-integrated, his singular pitch remains a thing to cherish.