Wes is best

Director Wes Anderson poses during a photocall for the film Moonrise Kingdom in competition at the 65th Cannes Film Festival.

There are times when I think Wes Anderson should be the only man allowed to make movies.

One comes away from the 43-year-old American director's most recent effort, Moonrise Kingdom, feeling both entertained and edified.

It is a nice feeling and one that is really, really rare.

Set on a remote island in 1965, the story is about an eccentric orphan named Sam (Jared Gilman) who runs away from scout camp in order to woo a dreamy young girl named Suzy (Kara Hayward).

Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton) leads his boys in a search of the pair, with local cop Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis) and Kara's parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) joining in.

Opening here today, Moonrise Kingdom is a straightforward tale.

But Anderson - best known for flicks like Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums and The Darjeeling Limited - tells it so expertly that you can't help but be swept up in the romance, whimsy and adventure.

With its fresh milieu, vivid colour palette, meticulous set design, adorable costumes, dexterous dialogue and bittersweet tone, it is like absolutely no other movie out there.

It is better.

Anderson-wannabe JASON JOHNSON tells you why.


Moonrise Kingdom cost just US$16 million (S$20 million) to make, yet it has already earned more than US$36 million in the US.

While there are loads of indie film-makers out there, only a minuscule number manage to find an audience as large and loyal as Anderson's.


Most movies look like most other movies. Thrillers look like other thrillers. Romantic comedies look like other romantic comedies. Horror flicks look like other horror flicks.

Nothing else out there looks even remotely like a Wes Anderson joint.

How many movies have you seen recently that are about two children running away together - one of whom is an unpopular, bed-wetting Khaki Scout and the other a proto-goth who considers binoculars her super power?


Rare indeed is a director like Anderson who has the courage to present the world as he sees it, from a completely subjective point of view.

Moonrise Kingdom takes place on the island of New Penzance, which does not actually exist.

The residents of Moonrise Kingdom do not talk like normal people. They speak in terse but poetical sentences designed to tickle your soul.

The actors' clothes are costumey.

Anderson shoots the action in candy-coloured, fastidiously-composed frames that look like postcards from a fairyland.


The moments that are most touching in Moonrise Kingdom are the unexpected creative flourishes that dazzle us with their generosity of artistic spirit.

Check out the church production of Noah's Ark in which Suzy, dressed as a crow, is framed by a rising sun as she rises above the lesser beasts.

Sam and Suzy's scenes at the beach are one of the closest approximations of Eden ever committed to screen.

The most potent example of Anderson's aesthetic is perhaps the gift Sam gives to Suzy - earrings he made out of two fish hooks and matching blue beetles.


Anderson's world view is inclusive.

Unlike typical indie directors who thrive on controversy, like Tom Six (The Human Centipede) and Lars von Trier (Melancholia), Anderson is not out to shock or offend.

Instead, he creates oddball characters who are nevertheless huggable. In Moonrise Kingdom, the scouts who initially torment Sam have a change of heart halfway through the film and decide to help him escape New Penzance with Suzy.

In a von Trier flick, they would have finished him off with their hatchets and clubs.


Underlying Moonrise Kingdom is a sense of wistful sadness that is utterly unique to Anderson's oeuvre.

When a storm hits the island, Suzy's father stares up at his bedroom ceiling and says: "I hope the roof flies off and sucks me into space."

Rarely is a movie character allowed to express the sort of existential sadness you see here, the sort of insomnia-inducing anxiety that can haunt those who give the slightest thought to the human condition.


There is nothing wrong with dumb comedy - on the contrary - but when it is always, always, always dumb, it is nice to have a guy like Anderson around to prove that brains and laughs are not mutually exclusive.

In one example, Sam's dog dies and Suzy asks Sam if he was a good dog. Sam replies: "Who's to say?" About every 30 seconds there is another gem, whether a flourish of verbal wit or a delicious visual gag, like the scout merit badges that read "Judo Expert" and "Mountains".

This article was first published in The New Paper.

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