Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
Dir. Wes Anderson
85/100 (and rising)

I know Mitchell really liked this–and it has his name written all over it. I’d recommend this to Chris, Kevin, Penny and Jill. I guess Grace would have good shot of liking this. Marc, Don and Joel have a chance, too, and I think I would recommend this film or Bottle Rocket, if they would choose only one Wes Anderson film to see. Larri would probably think this was OK at best, so I wouldn’t recommend this to her.

I want to see this again.

The plot isn’t very interesting in my opinion. On a small New England(?) island, two pre-teen social misfits–the boy from a boyscout-like troop and the girl from a fairly well-to-do family–run away together. Meanwhile. the police captain (Bruce Willis), the scoutmaster (Ed Norton), the parents of the girl (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) and the scouting troop hunt after the two. Really, the plot isn’t really that important–except that this time it helps sustain the momentum of the film. (More later.)

A few other comments. Man, this film is meticulously crafted. Almost every shot of the film is really nice too look at, and sometimes funny in a charming and delightful way. (I loved the opening sequence with the camera pans and pull-backs. I’ve heard other people describe Anderson’s aesthetic as “dollhouse,” and you really get that sense in this opening scene.)

I guess you could describe this as a romantic-comedy, but there’s some rather poignant moments that are quite sad. The film perfectly balances these moments with charming whimsy that Anderson is good at.

Oh, I can’t remember the last time I chuckled and laughed as much as I did. I really liked this movie.

I’ve always like Wes Anderson’s sensibility as a filmmaker–the quirkiness of the characters and set-design. But I feel he’s never really been able to put these qualities together into a strong, unified film–until now. This is the film (although I haven’t seen Life Aquatic or Darjeeling–which I really want to see now). The other films used narrative framework, but the energy and momentum would always peter out–as if the filmmakers lost interest in the narrative. Not so here.

Also, I think the film successfully integrates the characters and themes into the narrative. All these components are working together in a way that doesn’t seem to happen in the other films. The story and the resolution may not be notable, but they’re good enough because it provides a structure for the characters and sets/costumes–which are the main point of interest in Anderson’s films, imo. Really, the film is running on all cylinders (I loved the scenes with the narrator, too), and I’d have to consider it for one of the best films of the 10s.

I also enjoyed Moonrise Kingdom and would like to see it a second time before it leaves the theaters.


Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
Bill Murray, Francis McDormand, Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, Tilda Swinton, Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward. Directed by Wes Anderson.

Sam is a young teenager, a member of a Boy Scouts kind of organization who runs away from his troop with Suzy, another young teenager. Sam is a smart, thoughtful, socially awkward, artistic loner. Suzy is a smart, articulate, lonely trouble-maker in school. Sam runs from his troop; Suzy runs from her family. Together they set up camp in a small harbor with a suitcase full of Suzy’s books and Sam’s considerable camping skills.

Here’s the thing about Wes Anderson, the director and co-writer of Moonrise Kingdom. When I saw Bottle Rocket many years ago, I was thrilled by the charismatic lead actors and the characters they portrayed. There was a quirkiness about the plot, dialogue, and characters that I really admired, and although the narrative fell a bit short of satisfying, the newness of these film-makers’ voices (Anderson co-wrote the script with his college friend Owen Wilson) was enough to keep me interested. Martin Scorsese famously listed Bottle Rocket as one of his ten favorite movies of the 1990s, and you could see why.

When Rushmore was released a couple of years later, again written by Anderson and Wilson, the critics swooned, and my interest was further tickled by the same stuff. But where the critics seemed to love the story, I found it completely unsatisfying, as if the writers and director had set me up for something really good (with excellent pieces in place) that was never delivered. I don’t have a problem with movies that don’t seem to go anywhere, plot-wise, but the feeling I had at the end of the film was one of a director telling me he had just said something meaningful, when in fact the plot had set up the meaningful something without ever getting there. As an ardent admirer of Bill Murray, I wanted to like this film much more than I did; there wasn’t enough movie where there should have been more movie.

If the critics swooned over Rushmore, they went ga-ga over The Royal Tenenbaums, which was even less satisfying than Rushmore. That film seemed like little more than a self-indulgence. Not only were the quirky characters not nearly as interesting as the characters in the two previous films, but they were so self-aware in their quirkiness that the entire thing felt like a put-on, as if Anderson were flexing his new Hollywood cred by populating his movie with big-name actors playing unimaginably idiosyncratic characters and then leading them all through a plot that ended in a empty lot at the end of a boring cul-de-sac.

I felt like I’d been taken. So The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou came and went and with nary a notice by me, and though I liked the trailer for The Darjeeling Limited, I refused to be hoodwinked again and ignored all critics’ reviews. I did see The Fantastic Mr. Fox, which I also found unsatisfying, but I didn’t know whether to blame that on Anderson or on Roald Dahl, so I don’t really count that one.

I probably would have avoided Moonrise Kingdom, too, if I hadn’t been so intrigued by the trailer, and if two friends hadn’t invited me to see it with them one Saturday night.

I have to say that it looked, sounded, and felt great from the very beginning. But my overwhelming thought through the first half of the film was, “Here we go again.” I was sure I was being set up once again for a narrative disappointment. That disappointment never came, so I saw it again the following week with fresh eyes.

It is visually an amazing movie, looking like a combination pop-up children’s book and those shoebox dioramas that once passed for book reports when I was in elementary school. Characters are not only quirky, but pathetic and interesting, many of the adults carrying a kind of tragic gravitas that seems well-earned, a sad, how-did-I-get-here grownup persona that the film’s main characters are determined to avoid becoming.

Among the film’s many accomplishments, the most admirable is the way Anderson walks the line between treating his main characters too much like little children and treating them too much like young adults. Sam and Suzy are tweeners, old enough to declare love for one another but not exactly old enough to do too much with those declarations. At this in-between age, boys are still short and chubby-cheeked, while girls are reaching already into maturity, a disparity that the film acknowledges but doesn’t exploit beyond a very realistic awareness of the tenuous foothold these young characters have on their own developing sexuality.

Suzy is presented as pretty, the kind of young teenager whose future beauty grownups are aware of even if her peers don’t see it yet. Anderson could play it safe and present her in the antiseptic, unsexualized, pre-pubescent way we want to see our young teens, but to do so would be to ignore or forget the reality. He could have gone too far the other way, the way so many Hollywood pictures do, presenting his thirteen-year-old character as much older, wiser, and knowledgeable, but that would be just as negligent. There is another in-between approach, a kind of Lolita-like presentation where the character is supposed to be ignorant while the viewer is not, but that’s not this film’s intention.

In a very non-provocative way, Anderson reminds us of this character’s sexuality without making lechers of the grownup characters or of the viewers. When the characters dance on the beach in their underwear, it’s pretty innocent, but it’s not totally innocent. Innocent with potential is what it is, like those early, tentative forays into romance that we experienced ourselves at that age.

It’s a bold approach, and Anderson takes it confidently, sensitively, and deftly. When I said, “He really walks a tricky line” to the English majors I saw the film with the first night, I didn’t even have to explain. They were nodding their heads before I was finished saying it.

None of this is to say this is not a flawed movie. There are parts of the plot that get a bit bogged down, and I could have used just a bit more information about the grownup characters, but that’s only because they are so interesting and well-acted. The only technical misstep is a soundtrack that’s just too invasive. Anderson uses the film’s music thoughtfully and deliberately, but I think it’s an unnecessary approach most of the time, one that takes away from the film’s overall quality.

Still, I was most pleasantly surprised by Moonrise Kingdom, one of the best movies I’ve seen this year.

1 Response to “Moonrise Kingdom (2012)”

  1. Reid

    When the characters dance on the beach in their underwear, it’s pretty innocent, but it’s not totally innocent. Innocent with potential is what it is, like those early, tentative forays into romance that we experienced ourselves at that age.

    I like this observation. I know you were trying to explain this to me before, but the “Lolita” comment threw me off. The wording here resonates with me more.

    There are parts of the plot that get a bit bogged down, and I could have used just a bit more information about the grownup characters, but that’s only because they are so interesting and well-acted.

    I agree about the adult characters. What parts bogged down for you? (I thought Keitel’s character was a bit unnecessary, particularly the scene where Norton’s character rescues him.)

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