Cannes Check: Wes Anderson's 'Moonrise Kingdom'

Posted by · 8:58 am · April 20th, 2012

I’m not sure I’m ready for it, but yesterday’s full lineup announcement brought home the fact that this year’s Cannes Film Festival is less than a month away. It scarcely feels like a year ago that the likes of “The Artist,” “The Tree of Life” and “Drive” entered our lives, but here we are, ready to welcome next batch of potential crossover hits, treasured obscurities and inevitable disappointments.

With that, welcome to our Cannes Check series, in which I’ll individually preview each of the 22 titles in Competition. (Much as I’d love to give similar treatment to Un Certain Regard and other festival strands, I am but one man.) Same as last year, I’ll be covering one film a day, in alphabetical order of the director’s surname. Tidily enough, that means we’re kicking off with the film that itself will be raising the curtain on this year’s festival — Wes Anderson’s “Moonrise Kingdom.”

The auteur: Wes Anderson (American, 42 years old)

The talent: We’ve come to expect all-star ensembles — with a slightly mix-and-match flavor — from Anderson’s films. His latest is no exception. Regular Anderson lucky charms Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman are joined by a host of A-listers you wouldn’t necessarily expect to find in the same film: Bruce Willis, Tilda Swinton, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand, Harvey Keitel and Bob Balaban, as well as a pair of first-time child actors, Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward, in the putative lead roles. Roman Coppola, who co-wrote and co-produced “The Darjeeling Limited” in 2007, again had a hand in the script here, while super-producer Scott Rudin continues the partnership he’s maintained with Anderson since “The Royal Tenenbaums” in 2001.

Below the line, cinematographer Robert Yeoman, who has shot all of Anderson’s live-action features, is once more on board — and looks to have more to do here than he did on recent Hollywood assignments like “Bridesmaids.” Editor Andrew Weisblum, fresh off an Oscar-nomination for “Black Swan,” has been with Anderson since “The Darjeeling Limited”; a newer collaborator is ubiquitous composer Alexandre Desplat, who scored an Oscar nod for his first pairing with the director, “Fantastic Mr. Fox.” Crucial newcomers, considering how much of Anderson’s reputation rests on his films’ design properties, are production designer Adam Stockhausen (promoted from art direction duty on “Darjeeling”) and costume designer Kasia Walicka-Maimone.

The pitch: Wes Anderson’s films are styled in such a way that they always evoke roughly the same milieu, regardless of when and where they’re set, but this is an actual period piece. Set in small-town New England in the 1960s, it’s an ensemble comedy sprouting from the story of two amorous kids (Gilman and Hayward) who decide to flee the island community they live in, prompting a town-wide search party to go after them. Bruce Willis plays the sheriff leading the search, Murray and McDormand play Hayward’s parents, Norton plays Gilman’s scout leader and Swinton evidently pops up as a social services worker. The premise promises much of the unhurried, digression-laden quirkiness that is Anderson’s trademark, with a shot of woozy summer romance. It doesn’t look like those who find his work precious — in both the positive and negative senses of term — will be given much cause to change their minds.

The pedigree: Considering his established arthouse brand and relative popularity in Europe, it might seem a little surprising that this is Anderson’s first film to unspool at Cannes — but then his auteur reputation is arguably heftier than his filmography of just six previous features. “The Darjeeling Limited,” which played Venice (but won no prizes) in 2007, gave the director his only previous appointment at one of the European majors.

The buzz: Cannes organizers gave an already anticipated film a major profile boost by handing it the opening night slot, but that can be something of a poisoned chalice — Woody Allen made good on the opportunity last year, but Cannes openers generally have a reputation for underwhelming, particularly when they’re also in Competition. (“Moonrise Kingdom” is the first film to tick both boxes since “Blindness” in 2008; “My Blueberry Nights” is another unhappy precedent.) That said, the film makes perfect sense as a curtain-raiser, promising both lightweight fun and red-carpet star wattage; with any luck, like “Midnight in Paris,” it’ll prove an easily digestible appetizer for the heavier courses to follow. The trailer, meanwhile, has drawn the approximate levels of fluttery excitement and scepticism you’d expect for an Anderson film — “Fantastic Mr. Fox” having earned back much of the critical goodwill lost by the coolly received “Darjeeling.”

The odds: UK bookmakers Paddy Power have the film in midfield, giving it 16-1 odds of taking the Palme. Even that seems a tad generous, influenced more by name appeal than festival logic. Here, the opening-night slot is a drawback: with everything to follow, will the film stick in people’s minds? Comedies rarely triumph at Cannes, and the film may strike the jury as too mainstream for top honors — even if this year’s president, Nanni Moretti, may be more inclined towards whimsy than most. Positive critical buzz, leading into the film’s prompt release date of May 25, is really what Team Anderson is after.

For more views on movies, awards season and other pursuits, follow @GuyLodge on Twitter.

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