Cannes Film Festival
Wes Anderson made a name for himself on clean, quirky visual style, and “Moonrise Kingdom” forges a further name for the director on that basis. It’s a Wes Anderson movie for people that love Wes Anderson movies, and for everyone else … yeah, there’s a different movie for you out there somewhere. If his insistence on the rule of thirds, smooth horizontal tracking shots, and manipulation of the mise-en-scene frustrated you in “The Royal Tenenbaums” or “The Darjeeling Limited,” then this movie, which is Anderson stylistically to a T, will only frustrate you more.
I, like many, enjoy the quirkiness of Anderson’s idiosyncratic eye, so watching “Moonrise Kingdom” felt like devouring sugar for an hour and a half. The film almost feels like the director is making a tribute to his own technique as it hits the viewer with a sledgehammer with its flair within the frame. But that sledgehammer is more like a blow-up hammer you get at a carnival, one that whacks you in a fun and enjoyable way (provide you don’t mind the bump on your head). He does extreme close-ups on written notes, takes it to Kubrickian lengths with his dolly shots, and sports costumes and sets that look both of their time and out of this world. I doubt there is anyone that couldn’t tell you what a Wes Anderson movie is after watching his latest feature.
But while aesthetics may have defined Anderson to the masses, his films also boast a quiet strength that serve a perfect compliment to his stylistic bravura: their bizarre, irrational characters full of humanity in spite of their seemingly out-of-whack brain chemistry. Indeed, “The Royal Tenenbaums” would be nothing without its hilarious family ensemble of uniquely defined individuals … heck, even “Fantastic Mr. Fox” was driven by its stop-motion characters. While the personalities that fill the screen “Moonrise Kingdom” surely fit the Anderson mold, they feel more like underdeveloped archetypes than true narrative-drivers worth emotionally investing in.
The story of Sam and Suzy, twelve-year-old social pariahs who run away to live in freshly pubescent passion in the woods, and the idiotic adults trying to track them down is most definitely entertaining to watch. Even where Anderson and Roman Coppola’s script plots thinly, the acting skill picks up the slack, particularly Bruce Willis as a moronic cop and Edward Norton as pea-brained scout master. Yet even with lively portrayals, the cast of “Moonrise Kingdom” never quite breathes nearly enough life into their characters, and they needed that gust to hit the mark.
Granted, no one would mistake Wes Anderson for a maudlin or emotional director, but the kind of story he tells here may almost require something other than his normal detachment. His tale of love never excites or sparks at the heights of his aesthetics. The originality at least keeps it engaging and interesting, but anyone who knows Anderson will be fully cognizant of the reality that “Moonrise Kingdom” lacks the wholesome blends of style and substance that defines his beloved films.
Even though Anderson is probably most responsible for the film’s flaws, he is also clearly responsible for the film’s many successes. The vast majority of my laughs came not from a line in the screenplay or an actor’s facial expression. Rather, the jovial hilarity of “Moonrise Kingdom” comes from the peculiarities of Anderson’s manipulation of the image. It’s rare when I can say that seeing the way Bill Murray is photographed is funnier than Bill Murray himself, but it happened here, it happened with the other actors, and it happened often. B /