Once in a while something happens that makes all us hip young movie nerds suddenly pop our heads up like startled prairie dogs before scampering to our nearest alternative theater in a stampede of horn-rimmed glasses and plaid shirts, because holy crap there’s a new Wes Anderson movie.
Anderson is one of those directors us young people love because his movies are a kaleidoscope of deadpan humor, retro kitsch, offbeat charm and cinematic rule-breaking. If I didn’t know any better I’d say Wes Anderson didn’t actually exist, but was some corporate-concocted phantom, and his movies were part of a sinister attempt to keep all us movie nerds occupied so we don’t revolt against Hollywood whenever they release another brain-dead groaner, like perhaps one based on a popular board game.
But that can’t be true because if you really could create movies this effortlessly charming that easily, there would be no stopping these shadowy figures and at a whim they could reduce us all to enchanted zombies, grinning at the heartwarming imagery on screen while they harvest our bio-energy or something. But I digress
For my part, Anderson took me a while to “get”, his earlier efforts like Bottle Rocket, The Royal Tenenbaums and even the vaunted Rushmore not quite working for me. But then he hit some kind of mixture of deadpan and kooky-ness with The Life Aquatic and my interest was piqued, and once I saw the perfect storm of humor and charm that is The Fantastic Mr Fox, I was instantly hooked.
His new movie, Moonrise Kingdom continues to hit that sweet spot, just the right mix of deadpan and screwball to disarm and charm you in a single move leaving cynics like me blinking with confusion at these strange contortion of our lower face and this salty runoff from our eyeballs.
Moonrise is a classic love story at its’ core. Young lovers Suzy and Sam escape their families and institutions to run off to the woods together, with an endless stream of party poopers in hot pursuit to ruin their fun. Their romance is about as simple and effective a screen romance as you can get, which makes it all the more unique that neither of them is much older than ten years old.
This is, for all intents and purposes, the classic forbidden love tale, with our star-crossed lovers (who incidentally look like they’re going to grow up to be John Hodgeman and Scarlett Johansson) barely having hit puberty. It’s a unique angle that some may find uncomfortable or unrealistic, but hey this is a Wes Anderson movie so get used to it.
The two leads, Jared Gilman and Kara Haward, play their roles well, but bear in mind this is still Wes Anderson, so you’re not going to see inflamed passion so much as subtle, subdued emotion here.
Speaking of which, the supporting cast is a mad jumble of both Wes Anderson regulars and newcomers, with familiar faces like Bill “My career would be dead if not for Wes Anderson” Murray and Jason “My career wouldn’t even exist without Wes Anderson” Schwartzman showing up. And is it just me or does Murray seem to be made up to look like another Anderson regular, Michael Gambon? That was odd.
In the new faces department we have Edward Norton, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDorman, Harvey Keitel, and Bruce Willis in his most un-John Mcclane like role in recent memory. All love to Mr. Willis, but the guy has been playing almost nothing but no-nonsense badasses for the better part of 20 years now, and it’s good to see him branch out once in a while.
Back to the movie itself, it has all the familiar earmarks of Anderson’s style. Match-on edits, fourth-wall breaking exposition dumps, deadpan humor, a predominantly yellow and orange color scheme, symmetric framing, you’ve seen all this before. Anderson’s detractors will have plenty to complain about, griping that he never seems to evolve as a director, and his style stays set firmly where it is, refusing to move like a small child sitting cross-armed on a grocery store floor after being told he can’t have any pop-tarts.
I can’t say I can argue, though admittedly I’m far more familiar with his newer works than the older stuff. And indeed the movie does suffer some problems, however small. One of the couples’ primary antagonists is the scout troop Sam ran away from to be with Suzy, a group of mean-spirited young lads who sorta turn good towards the end after a bit of moral uncertainty that was never even partially implied before crops up in one of them. McDormand and Willis have a subplot that seems to go nowhere and serves only as a backdrop for the main plot.
But you don’t go to a Wes Anderson movie to nitpick plot details, you go to get swept up in the style and sincerity and charm of the whole thing, and Moonrise Kingdom did just that, pulling me along quite well, though admittedly it took a little bit for the charm river to pick up speed.
It may not have been the roaring tidal wave of win that was The Fantastic Mr. Fox, but Anderson fans will be pleased and casual moviegoers, if they can get past the eccentricities of the story, acting, directing, camera work, etc, will most likely find themselves amused by it.
But be absolutely sure the two groups don’t mingle. The last time a Wes Anderson fan and a casual moviegoer exchanged words, the casual guy mentioned enjoying a Jerry Bruckheimer movie and the Anderson fan ate his face off.
Once you’ve got that image out of your head, give the trailer a watch to help you decide