I am a big Wes Anderson fan. While I like all of his films to varying degrees, I genuinely love “Rushmore,” “The Royal Tenenbaums” and “Fantastic Mr. Fox.” If “The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou” is on, I simply have to watch it.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I understand there are plenty of Anderson haters out there who find him too obsessed with quirkiness, production design and being twee to make movies they can identify with and I’d never try and talk anyone out of feeling that way. But I would argue that Anderson’s obsession with youth, love, passion and pastiche for film mixed with fetishism of a yesteryear in which he was barely even alive make him a true American icon and one of our only living auteurs. He’s a filmmaker with a unique view on the world and a varying opinion on how he feels about life and love and he boldly shares this vision with the world. Even if you don’t like what he does, I think everyone should respect it.
His latest film “Moonrise Kingdom,” while not my favorite Anderson film, is clearly the movie he was most destined to make. It’s brilliant, painful, dryly funny and it feels like a combination of all of the best Wes Anderson film attributes. While I can’t wait to see “Moonrise Kingdom” again, if you’re not a fan of what Anderson brings to the table, stay away from the buffet this time around.
Many shots are meticulously constructed and reminded me of countless children’s book illustrations. Anderson employs both Mark Mothersbaugh and Alexandre Desplait (who have separately scored his other films) as composers to awesome, yet very different effect. He also brings terrific actors together and gets performances out of them we’ve never seen before. Bruce Willis, Edward Norton and Harvey Keitel are all acting outside of their normal range and all three are fantastic, if not underused. Of course, all of those proclamations about Anderson mean nothing if you just want an entertaining and engaging story that isn’t mired in Asperger’s like detail to minutia and while the latter holds true in “Moonrise Kingdom,” there’s also a very simple storyline here about first love.
In the film we meet young Sam (Gilman) who is an antsy and precocious youth to say the least. After growing bored during a student production about Noah’s Ark, Sam wanders off backstage where he encounters Suzy (Hayward) and he becomes instantly intrigued by her. While the film details Sam and Suzy’s struggle to run away and be together, the questions raised linger on first love and whether or not this can be “true love” or merely an emulation of the relationships and romances we read about, see on TV or witness from adults as we grow up.
I also feel these are questions Anderson is constantly asking in his work starting with “Rushmore.” Can Max (Jason Schwartzman) really be in love with Mrs. Cross (Olivia Williams)? Does he know what love is? Does he know how to love? “The Royal Tenenbaums” is steeped in love and what it means to different people. Can Royal (Gene Hackman) be one of the worst human beings ever but still be worthy of love? Is Chas Tenenbaum’s (Ben Stiller) stifling, suffocation love for his children the right way to love and care for people? The deepest love in the film is the love Richie (Luke Wilson) feels for Margot (Gwenyth Paltrow), but she’s his sister. Where does that leave Richie (I don’t want to spoil the movie for anyone who’s yet to see it but those who have know where this love leads)?
So now we have “Moonrise Kingdom,” which is nearly a tone poem or ode to first love and while I have to admit it didn’t deeply resonate with me personally, I keenly feel how Wes Anderson feels which is an amazing experience in it’s own right. Throughout the film young Sam uses everything he’s learned as a Khaki Scout to try and provide for Suzy as they embark on a journey that is destined to lead nowhere but rather to continue onwards together. It’s all Sam knows how to do in order to prove worth and show that he cares but is it enough? Both Suzy and Sam have difficult family lives for completely different reasons and while neither is emotionally equipped to help the other sort through these issues, they seem to connect in a deep and sad way that is so very Anderson in the way the bittersweet can be both lovely and depressing.
All of this praise does not make “Moonrise Kingdon” a perfect film as the adult characters are pretty lackluster in terms of development. As much as I enjoyed the aforementioned out-of-the-norm casting from Willis, Norton and Keitel, the adult characters in the film are fairly one-note and not terribly deep. Granted, this is a film about Sam and Suzy but a little more depth to the adults would have been much preferred.
For those who love nitpicking Wes Anderson clichés, it’s low hanging fruit to come after Bill Murray who even seems bored of himself playing the dour, confused husband of a less than faithful wife once again before Anderson’s lens. I was also disappointed that the typical use of popular music (or at least awesome B-side tracks) was absent here. Anderson has always had a pretty uncanny ability to use music not written specifically for his films to great effect and here, it doesn’t happen. Ah well. Even though I feel the film misses the mark with some performances, there’s still so, so much to love about “Moonrise Kingdom.”
In the past I was very critical of Anderson in regards to “Darjeeling Limited” which I felt was a misstep. There, I felt that much like the childlike characters in his films, Anderson was trying to play adult with more serious subjects and it didn’t work. Not to sound snotty or condescending, but much like the characters in his films, I felt Anderson himself didn’t have the life experiences needed to portray intimate relationships. Yet here, with “Moonrise Kingdom,” I feel like Anderson is making much clearer statements through his work. The film is sneakily deep while never cloying. I was engaged by what was happening onscreen but able to let my memories and imagination wander briefly, set off by gorgeous shots or insightful dialogue. The film also makes you feel like being a little kid again and running away from home, destined for a huge adventure that usually ends when it gets cold or dark outside.
In short; I was totally engaged and fairly enamored by “Moonrise Kingdom” and felt genuine affection for a filmmaker who has built a career that allowed him to make this film. Without every film Anderson has made before (very much including the animated “Fantastic Mr. Fox”) “Moonrise Kingdom” would have not been possible. As a fan of movies, I’m thrilled we have the film to enjoy and I remain excited that Wes Anderson is in our lives.