[Review] – Moonrise Kingdom

10 Jun

Title: Moonrise Kingdom
Year: 2012
Director: Wes Anderson
Writers: Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola
Starring: Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Jason Schwartzman, Harvey Keitel, Bob Balaban
MPAA Rating: PG-13, sexual content and smoking
Runtime: 94 min
IMDb Rating: 8.2
Rotten Tomatoes: 95%
Metacritic: 83

I’m a huge, unapologetic Wes Anderson fanboy. You can say what you want about the director over relying on his stylized looks to sell his movies, or on being quirky and twee, but the truth of the matter is that, visually, there’s absolutely no one like him. And that’s not because people aren’t trying, because pretty much every film that’s been stamped with the adjective “twee” comes from the fact that some filmmaker tried to be Wes Anderson; if imitation was the sincerest form of flattery, then Mr. Anderson should definitely consider himself truly flattered.

Visually he’s the best, I’ll say that again, and every little thing that makes every single frame in his movies so carefully constructed is there for a reason, to tell a larger story. Those stories are always seriously fantastic, all of them feel hopeful and nostalgic in a way, all of them have very genuine emotions on display, hugely memorable characters, the most amazing uses of popular music probably in the history of film, and dabble in themes like fatherhood, the understanding of one self and love, in the most unique and charming of ways. Wes Anderson truly is a master filmmaker, the kind of guy who’s so clearly been influenced by many greats that came before him, and that in an even clearer way has influenced himself so many of those who came after him, many of them trying to imitate, not one of them coming close to duplicating him.

I really do love Wes Anderson, and it’s an impossible tie between himself and the other Anderson (Paul Thomas, natch), if you ask me who my favorite working director is. I love the stuff he has to say, and how he says it, with the idiosyncratic slew of characters that he creates so well, the unmistakable color palette, his trademark sense of humor, the little things that he says about life which always end up meaning so much, and even more so on repeat viewings. I could go on and address his naysayers right now, but this is a post that’s only supposed to praise the man. Because, you see, Wes Anderson has crafted at the very least two masterpieces already, Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums, and his latest, Moonrise Kingdom, just so happens to be his third. Damn am I glad to have him back.

Mr. Anderson had been absent from our screens since 2009, when he did the stop-motion animated Fantastic Mr. Fox, which got him an Oscar nomination (his second) and that proved that the director could indeed pretty much do anything he wanted. And this is actually his first live-action film in five years, since The Darjeeling Limited back in 2007, which was probably his most divisive film yet. Well, you don’t have to worry about him getting rusty or anything, because Moonrise Kingdom, his seventh directorial effort, is an impeccable film that will make fanboys of the director like me giddy as hell, with the gorgeous frames, the spectacular performances, the sweetness and the whimsy. You have to watch this film.

Moonrise Kingdom is, however, the first film in the filmography of Mr. Anderson that doesn’t have Owen Wilson in its credits in any kind of capacity, something the director has already said won’t be the case again in his next film, which will be set in Europe. But, not to fret, it’s not as though Mr. Anderson has altered his posse or anything; Moonrise Kingdom has many of his frequent collaborators at hand.

His brother, Eric Chase Anderson, is still providing the artwork and illustrations seen in the movie; Roman Coppola, who had been a second unit director on The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and The Darjeeling limited, as well as co-writing and producing the latter, and voiced one of the characters in Fantastic Mr. Fox, is again here as Mr. Anderson’s co-writer; Bill Murray, a staple in every single Wes Anderson film since Rushmore (meaning he’s only not been in one: Bottle Rocket) is here; and so his Rushmore co-star, Jason Schwartzman, another integral part of the Wes Anderson troupe; oh, and Mark Mothersbaugh‘s hands as well as Alexandre Desplat‘s are in the soundtrack. Excited enough for this project already? Well, if that wasn’t enough, let me enlist the names of the new guys joining him in this one: Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand and Bob Balaban. Oh, and there’s also Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward, who’ll steal your hearts away.

Mr. Gilman and Ms. Hayward are the two thirteen year-old first-time actors that are in charge of playing Sam and Suzy, our two lead characters around whom the movie revolves. You see, they live in New Penzance, an island off the coast in New England, invented by Mr. Anderson with utmost detail in the maps and the town layout, during the summer of 1965, and in true Wes Anderson fashion, these kids fall madly in love with each other and make a pact that sees them running off into the wilderness together. It’s kind of like you’re watching the adventures or Margot and Richie when they were young.

What happens then is that the little town is turned inside out in their efforts of trying to find them, led by Bruce Willis as the local police captain, in what may be the best grown-up performance of the bunch, as well as Suzy’s parents, played by Mr. Murray and Ms. McDormand. And I just can’t hide my love for everything that happens afterwards; Moonrise Kingdom is one of those perfect movies that are literally flawless from the very opening shot to the end credits. It’s Andersonian to the core, and it won’t win the director any new fans, but damn will those of us who are already under his spell love the hell out of this one and hope it comes out straight away as a Criterion title.

It’s perfect, of course, that this movie is set in the 60’s. If you watch the director’s past films, you’ll be quick to notice that all his stylized visual tricks are many times marred in that kind of 60’s tinge, so it really felt like the most natural next step for a Wes Anderson film to finally be set in that time. And as soon as it opens and you see the Bishop house, where Suzy lives, you’ll realize this is Wes Anderson all the way, tracking his way horizontally through the house, the colors too bright for it to be real life, everyone seeming a bit too self-aware, the kids being the most awesome kinds ever.

All of that is very true, all those things take place and it’s easy to pinpoint the fact that the world Mr. Anderson is building here is most definitely an artificial one; the film follows its own set of rules, the characters follow their quirky desires, they’re all masters of deadpan, the camera is dissecting New Penzance gorgeously. And yet, even though it’s so easy to know that you’re watching something that’s totally made up, there’s a way that’s unique to Wes Anderson in how real the emotions he touches upon are in these artificial worlds. Here’s a director who’s always known how to explore the minds and fantasies of kids, and who here is portraying love as seen by two adventurous young ones, who see it as the most simple and pure of emotions available to them. The fact that he’s this Khaki Scout who’s in charge of the survival gear and that she left home with only books, a record player, her favorite record and her cat is just genius icing on the cake.

It’s awesome how Mr. Anderson uses the story these two kids embark upon to show us this young love, and the purity of this emotion that can seem only perfect and uncomplicated to young hearts. However, he also acknowledges that stuff can’t stay that perfect forever, and he uses a hurricane that threatens the island to represent that sense of the approaching adolescence, and how as these two young lovers actually act on their desires to run off together they start experiencing adulthood, and the imperfect and heartbreaking moments that can come with it. A point further emphasized by the fact that the world of the adults searching for them is far less ideal than their own world is.

It’s that sincerity, shot in the most gorgeous and dreamy of ways, of course, that sets the original from the impersonators. Wes Anderson’s films look amazing, and they’re full of quirky little details that may make hipsters wet, but what’s really the most amazing aspect of his craft is how there are all these little exchanges of dialogue, quirky as they may be, that speak deeply to our emotions. That moment that’s been seen in clips in which Suzy tells Sam that she envies his being an orphan and he tells her that he loves her but she doesn’t really know what she’s really talking about, is as moving a moment as I think we’ll have in cinema this year. And yet because it’s told in these khakis and greens with the whimsical production design, people may not notice how much power it has straight away.

The adults, other than Suzy’s parents and the Captain, who’s actually having an affair with Suzy’s mother, include Edward Norton’s Scout Master Ward, Sam’s troop leader who mobilizes the troops in the search for him and who just oozes melancholy and Tilda Swinton’s character, who’s simply called Social Services, who also joins in the search because Sam, being an orphan and all, is a case for her. These are all great actors, with Mr. Norton seeming like a very good fit in the Anderson universe, and they brought great things to their characters.

These adults, like I said, are here to represent how disappointing growing up can be when contrasted to the kids’ stories. This is something that’s been seen a lot on the films of Mr. Anderson, and you get the failed marriage and the characters of Mr. Norton and Mr. Willis who seem bitter in their loneliness. And then you have the two kids that are infatuated by their first loves. And having one and then the other, as well as Mr. Anderson splendidly using flashbacks to cut to Suzy and Sam’s home lives (or lack thereof in the case of the latter), really drives the point of what will probably come to Sam and Suzy afterwards, but even having that present doesn’t take away from the sweetness of their story, if anything it actually enhances it.

Again, I love Wes Anderson, I’ll defend him always, because I have a slight case of OCD, and this much attention to detail is the kind of thing I swoon for (and I’d pay money to see how his DVD collection is organized). These gorgeous compositions, and the costumes and production design, the impeccable use of music, the small moments that seem cutesy but are actually as emotionally rich as anything else; this is Wes Anderson at his very best, and I can only imagine how much more I’m going to love Moonrise Kingdom on repeat viewings.

This review is already pretty much twice as long as my regular ones are, so I’ll leave it at that, not to assume anyone will have read this far anyway. But, in case it wasn’t clear enough already: go watch Moonrise Kingdom now. This is a filmmaker at the very top of his game, showing a confidence that’s amazing, giving us a visual feast, characters that, while very quirky and artificial, are grounded by the realest of emotions portrayed in the most honest of ways, all of that acted out by a stunning ensemble, full of regulars and newcomers alike, and a couple of debut performers with great things in their future. A true masterpiece.

Grade: A+


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