Directed by: Wes Anderson
Written by: Wes Anderson & Roman Coppola (screenplay)
Starring: Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, Bill Murray and Edward Norton
Like every Wes Anderson film, Moonrise Kingdom is an aesthetically beautiful comedy fueled by angst and injected with off-beat charm. Stylistically it is a definite building block off of his stop-motion rendition of Fantastic Mr. Fox, and in many ways seems more like an animated film than that one.
Part of the appeal of Mr. Fox, as Owen Gleiberman pointed out in his review, was that Anderson had always seemed to be a director of animation and using the puppets and stop-motion animation had allowed him to finally make a great movie. While The Royal Tenenbaums is still a beautifully rendered portrait of a family, I otherwise agree with Gleiberman.
Moonrise Kingdom is not a horrible movie; in fact the beauty of many of the images and and the masterful way that Anderson arranges them makes its overall averageness very palatable. However, many will likely be persuaded that it is a great one because of Anderson’s polished charm. He instills great care into the story of Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayword), a pair of tween lovebirds whose innocent courtship sends an entire town in 60s New England after them.
Despite the two newcomers placed front-and-center, Anderson has assembled an ensemble of talent worthy of his other films, including long-time collaborator Bill Murray as well as Frances McDormand, Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Harvey Keitel, Jason Schwartzman and Tilda Swinton. Each has a character suited to their various acting talents. McDormand and Murray mesh together very well as the concerned parents of Suzy, who along with the sheriff (Willis) and Sam’s scout leader (Norton) pursue the two children after they flee into the wilderness to get married and survive on their own.
For the most part, the movie progresses interestingly enough after a few awkward pacing patches in the beginning. Anderson’s gift for economical storytelling is almost unparallelled, and he knows it. Moonrise Kingdom begins and ends with smooth, rapid pans scanning Suzy’s family in their house as Sam narrates about assembling and disassembling the components of an orchestra. Anderson views cinema in this way more so than almost any other director, making each element as distinct as any instrument. The visuals are bright, crisp and very loud; the dialogue soft and often deadpan.
Emphasizing this clash has largely defined him as a director, and Moonrise Kingdom is his most distinct film in a catalog of very distinct films. Those who hate him will find plenty to loathe in the countless awkward exchanges and angsty youthful problems. Those who love him will find plenty to love in those same things, but also much that is different from his other films.
Though Sam is indeed the troubled son that has inhabited Anderson’s other films, there is no domineering father figure, no Royal Tenenbaum, that causes this. Instead, it is the lack of a father figure, or parents of any kind, that troubles Sam the most. He finds solace in the all-consuming affection of Suzy. The innocent, awkward emotions of young, stupid love are a perfect fit for Anderson, though the seeming emotional coldness of their relationship is somewhat out of sync with what they say to each other.
This is the result of the awkward child actors, which seems a deliberate casting choice that just didn’t pay off. Luckily, the more seasoned ensemble and Anderson’s polished filmmaking pick up their acting slack. The last 20 minutes, where a storm brings organized chaos to Anderson’s neatly arranged world, are nearly perfect.
Anderson could perhaps do with a little imperfection, though; a little loosening up and improvisation in his orchestra. When he builds up to a certain rhythm, as he does at the end here, it can be thrilling and extremely engaging. At other times his knack for mumbling and his tendency to pander to his audience’s expectations can be annoying and pretentious. He’s certainly found his filmmaking voice, but seems to keep singing largely the same tune.