Film Reviews

Moonrise Kingdom Wes Anderson

Rating - 8/10

Most of us have already made up our minds about Wes Anderson.  Either you are carried away by his diorama approach to filmmaking, or you think he's too clever by half, and consequently he annoys the shit out of you.  I'm in the former camp simply because I love movies, which are essentially made up stories told with varying degrees of visual and aural flair.  Anderson makes films that are fun to watch and listen to, with a painter's eye for detail and color and a pop critic's ear for just the right muic at the right moment.  Even lesser efforts, like The Darjeeling Limited, contain enough of these delights to make them worthwhile, while his best efforts burst with all the pleasure cinema can bring.  Moonrise Kingdom is Anderson at his best.

The film takes place on a fictional New England island where two young teenagers fall in love backstage at a production of Benjamin Britten's opera Noye's Fludde (Noah's Flood), which serves to warn us of the perils ahead for this budding romance.  The two correspond for a year and decide to run away together, mainly because they are both unhappy and perhaps a bit emotionally disturbed.  Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) is a 12 year old orphan and 'Khaki' Scout who is a pariah in his troop away at camp.  Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward) is also 12 and lives with her two younger brothers and their parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) who have a troubled marriage.  Mrs. Bishop is having an affair with the hapless police chief, played with admirable restraint by Bruce Willis.  The young brothers are oblivious to the marital turmoil, but Suzy feels it deeply and has acquired a permanant scowl which Hayward expertly maintains without overdoing it.  Armed only with a full backpack, Sam's camping skills, Suzy's record player, and some fantasy novels, the two meet in a field and begin what they think will be their new, idyllic life together.  

Immediately a search begins, led jointly by Willis' chief and Sam's earnest but likeable Scoutmaster, played by Ed Norton.  The kids find themselves on the run, narrowly managing to escape Sam's fellow scouts, brandishing knives and makeshift weapons.  They make their way to a secluded cove where they swim, dance to Francoise Hardy records and share a daring first kiss in their underwear.  This sequence is peak Anderson; the nervous delight of first love perfectly evoked.  From here on we find ourselves irrationally rooting for a relationship which may be mildly transgressive and which we ordinarily shouldn't expect to last through the summer.   But a storm is threatening, and the townspeople are closing in.  The paradise they have created is destined to be shortlived.
Anderson continues to follow his own idiosyncratic path, despite howls from critics demanding he drop the quirky mannerisms.  In Moonrise he goes all in, with symmetrical framing, extended tracking shots, and a fanatical attention to detail.  He seems to have decided that he's in the business of creating worlds and telling stories, and just as a painter creates everything that appears on his canvas, the filmmaker can exercise complete control of the frame.  I don't think its a coincidence that painting plays such a prominent role in many of his films, including this one.  Nothing is going to appear on screen unless he approves of it or put it there deliberately.  Some people react negatively to this kind of artificiality, but what is realistic about a puppet show, and who would doubt its ability to enchant children?  Anderson's films are witty puppet shows for adults, with a painter's conception of mise-en-scene.  He gets away with this, what in other hands would be annoying pretension, because of his sense of humor, which can justify almost anything.  There's a reason Bill Murray, maybe the funniest guy alive, appears in film after film.  And those who appreciate Anderson's art know that if you're seeing beautiful pictures, listening to great music, and laughing at the same time, you're pretty much having the time of your life.