Wes Anderson (The Royal Tenenbaums, The Darjeeling Limited) has always been a “different” kind of director. You’ll never see this guy helming a traditional Hollywood flick. Even this film which is essentially a preteen love story is filled with quirks and other oddities. From the way the story is told to the way the film is shot everything is left of center. And that is not a bad thing. I have become almost totally disillusioned with big studio pictures over the past couple of years, so I really welcome a director with a unique vision. The oddness is not the problem for me with this film (or maybe it is…), what I didn’t like about it was that it felt rather forced. I felt like Anderson, who also co-wrote the script, was doing quirky for the sake of being quirky, if you know what I mean. It was not convincing that it was organic.
In the New England area in the summer of 1965 and small town misfits Suzy (Kara Hayward – first film) and Sam (Jared Gilman – first film) have begun a pen pal relationship. Further and further disillusioned with their lives the two decide to run off together. When they are discovered to be missing this sets off plenty of panic.
Sam has run off from his scout troop one night. His Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton – Fight Club, The Incredible Hulk) and policeman Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis – The Sixth Sense, Pulp Fiction) begin a search for him that is stepped up when they find out from lawyers Walt (Bill Murray – Lost in Translation, Ghostbusters) and Laura Bishop (Frances McDormand – Fargo, Almost Famous) that their daughter Suzy is also missing.
The entire cast plays characters that are oddballs and misfits. Of course, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand and Bill Murray have spent large parts of their careers playing quirky characters, so they were definitely in their element. Speaking of the cast, the two that completely won me over were the two young leads. Total unknowns, Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward, are magical in their scenes together. They really click. The gamble by Anderson to use unknowns certainly pays off. I guess the fact that the rest of the cast is really star studded makes up for their lack of star power.
What was supremely well done was the attention paid to detail in regards to the sets, music and costumes. Every little thing was obviously thought of. Very stylized and stylish. There are plenty of vivid colours to tickle your eyes and several details of the costumes are rather funny. Keep your eyes peeled for the Boy Scout patches on the uniforms as they are a hoot! At times I was paying more attention to what the characters were wearing or the Bishop family’s odd house than I was to what was going on. Props must be paid to Anderson for his shots and camerawork. There are very few directors who take better single shots than this 43-year-old. His eye is a superior one.
Despite these two aforementioned aspects being well above average, I still could not enjoy the film. It is the insistence to verge into the overly surreal (if there is even such a thing). The end effect is that the whole thing becomes somewhat cartoon like and that detracts from the story. Anderson is obviously preoccupied with adolescence but it is becoming too much. Plus the fact that the preteens in the film speak more eloquently that most adults I know do does not lend to the realism of the film. The whimsy became almost unbearable for me at times. Even though the film is a short one (87 minutes) I found myself looking at my watch several times wondering if it would all be over shortly and could I get back to the real world immediately.
-Selected-Scene Storyboard Animatics
-Interviews With Cast and Crew
-Exploring the Set of Moonlight Kingdom
-Norton’s Home Movies From the Set
-Behind the Scenes, Special Effects and Test Footage
-A Booklet Featuring an Essay by Critic Geoffrey O’Brien Along with a Map of New Penzance Island