Monday, June 18, 2012

Moonrise Kingdom

I must confess, I am a Wes Anderson superfan. He is my favorite director working today. The Royal Tenenbaums is my favorite movie. It hit me on a whole variety of personal levels at the time of its release and it still works on me today. I credit Bottle Rocket for inspiring me to sit down and start writing. I even really liked The Darjeeling Limited, the movie that suffered most from the Wes Anderson Backlash Phenomenon (WABP).

Maybe my unabashed fandom makes my opinion unreliable, but I believe that Anderson's latest, Moonrise Kingdom, is his best work in over a decade, and in some ways maybe his best work yet. It embodies all the qualities that he is best known for: a moving, funny story with quirky characters, themes of the importance of family both biological and surrogate, lush, vibrant cinematography, and intricately, obsessively detailed production design.

Set in the 1960's, Moonrise Kingdom is the story of two twelve year olds in love, Sam, an orphan boy in a troop called the "Khaki Scouts", and Suzy, a depressed girl who loves French pop music and doesn't fit in with her own family. They live on a small island, and run off together into the wilderness to live off the land. When they disappear, the people in the town begin a frenzied search to find the two young lovers before a massive and dangerous storm arrives.

Newcomers Jared Gilman and Karen Hayward anchor the movie beautifully as Sam and Suzy. Sam is clever and self sufficient, and eager to show off all his knowledge. Suzy is sad and soulful, always reading fantasy stories about little girls who escape to far-away lands. They may seem quite different, but they understand each other, and treat each other like grown-ups, or at least what they understand to be grown up.

The supporting cast is rich with talent, as Anderson's films tend to be. Very few actors would say no to working with him. Edward Norton is Sam's scoutmaster Randy Ward. He runs a tight ship, and is very obsessed with little details, like many of Anderson's characters (and Anderson himself). Ward's job and true joy in life is put on the line when he loses Sam. Bill Murray and Frances McDormand are Suzy's parents, Walt and Laura Bishop. They don't seem to be entirely present in her life. Bruce Willis is Captain Sharp, the police officer leading the hunt for the kids, a man of few words. If that wasn't good enough, add to that Tilda Swinton, Jason Schwartzman, Harvey Keitel, and Bob Balaban, and you have a truly stellar cast.

Anderson's production design is incredible, possibly his densest looking film yet. From the very beginning, colors have played a massive role in his films. Moonrise Kingdom, set mostly outdoors, uses many greens and yellows so vibrant, they almost makes the wilderness seem like one of the magical lands in one of Suzy's books. The attention to detail this time around seems even more prominent than before. Look at the costumes in Suzy's Noah's Ark play! All the merit badges on the Khaki Scout uniforms! There's so much to look at in this movie. Anderson loves creating his own little universe, and then clearly takes great joy in decorating it.

People complain that after Tenenbaums, Anderson untethered himself from any grounding in reality, and floated off into a territory of pure whimsy. It was too much for some. Well, Moonrise Kingdom was the most whimsical yet. This is a world of his own making, and some of the cartoon physics of his previous film, the stop-motion animated The Fantastic Mr. Fox, has carried over into this film.

Five years ago, when the WABP was in full force, people said they were tired of Anderson doing the same type of movie over and over again. That's silly, though! Nobody complained that "Oh, Hitchcock is making another thriller. Yawn," or "Here comes yet another bloody pastiche of 70's exploitation films from Tarantino." Some directors spend their entire careers exploring the same themes and ideas, and applying their own unique visual flourishes to them. I would also argue that with each film, Anderson has grown as a director, adding new techniques to his visual bag of tricks and improving at the ones he already had.

Ok, I'll shut up now. If you're fed up with Wes Anderson's movies, I'm probably not the guy you should be listening to. But I believe if you love his work like I do, especially his first three films, Moonrise Kingdom might be well worth your time. It is possibly my favorite film of the year so far.


  1. Nice write-up Jim. Wes Anderson seems like he really brought his A-game to this story and it shows. Everything here just looks beautiful and works out perfectly that it easily has to on my list for best of the year so far. Hopefully Anderson can keep this up.

    1. Hey, thanks! I hope he keeps it up too.