Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom

Moonrise Kingdom
Indian Paintbrush, American Empirical Pictures, Scott Rudin Productions

STARRING Kara Hayward, Jared Gilman, Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Tilda Swinton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Jason Schwartzman, Harvey Keitel, Bob Balaban
WRITTEN BY Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola
PRODUCED BY Wes Anderson, Jeremy Dawson, Steven M. Rales, Scott Rudin
DIRECTED BY Wes Anderson

SHOT BY Robert D. Yeoman
EDITED BY Andrew Weisblum
MUSIC BY Alexandre Desplat

Screened 2012-05-16

“Small Change”


“Babes in Toyland”

2012’s Cannes Film Festival opened with Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom, a fairy tale about two star-crossed twelve-year-olds set in a strange land (Fisher’s Island) in the distant past (1965) and narrated to us by a precious old Anderson doppelgänger (Balaban). Irresistible gamine Suzy (Hayward) paints-by-the-numbers into her Wes Anderson coloring book: she stands rigidly erect atop the lighthouse near her family’s New England property, in probably the prettiest shot in the film, gazing through binoculars towards her secret agenda, the lovable boy scout scamp Sam (Gilman). Suzy and Sam nurse a curiosity, a kinship, an attraction to a full-fledged affair complete with elopement, chase, pursuit and pre-mature climax (it’s just a play on words).

Sam is a capital-emm Man, thoroughly self-realized at 12, carving his path, puffing his pipe, taking his wife. Sam and Suzy are respective outcasts and mental deviants, Sam for failing to be a team player and Suzy for erratic and uncontrollable bursts of emotion. With Sam the leper at Camp Ivanhoe and Suzy under perpetual house arrest not far from there, an elaborate prison break scenario is devised by the pair through snail mail until the day that Sam spirits Suzy away to their Moonrise Kingdom, a isolated fantasy dream cove of love and lust and everlasting future nostalgia, and where I am loath to relate how they danced to (and beat me to the aesthetic punch, fuckers) Madamoiselle Françoise Hardy, nouvelle vogue pop icon and contemporary of Godard and Karina, whose spirits are evoked thoroughly in this film via 1965 / Pierrot le Fou / Attaque Ciseaux Femme (Girl Scissor Attack) / and probably more I’m missing. They are pursued by ascending tiers of dream-quashing authority: parents, camp counsellors, pre-teen mercenaries, coppers/the fuzz, finally Social Services. Abounding are confrontations, jail breaks, help in unlikely places, and formulaic chase film tropes which I’m sure Wes would smile at my quantifying. Into Act Three I must say (but will not spoilingly reveal) things get a bit freaking zany for my taste and one really does sense Wes’s progression as a filmmaker, if you want to call it that. Digression, perhaps. Can Wes tell a story that isn’t about youth or for youth? He doesn’t want to, that’s for sure. The picture wraps up in a neat little bow – a redundant statement, really: it’s a Wes film.

Let’s take just a moment to discuss The Anderson Aesthetic. What shape does his auteurism take? Tagged keywords come to mind: meticulous, contrived, centered, laminated, quirky, cute, adorable, charming, precious, literary, rebellion, twee, adolescence. Obsession with rostrum shots, notated textual minutiae, symmetry. His sets are characteristically overdesigned and presented to us on flat planes like we’re watching theater – though really it’s more miniature than that, more like an animated diorama (it’s no surprise that Wes dabbled into animation). I’d be something of a bastard if I pretended it wasn’t a pretty film, and happily there is a noticeable amount of grain. As for his editing technique, Wes ‘spills Truffaut all over the place.’ This may be explained, though, by the fact that Wes employs a medium to be onset at all times to channel the spirit of Truffaut. He would be adrift without an ensemble to choreograph, but over halfway into the film when we see hubby and wifey Murray and McDormand quietly discussing their marriage in separate beds, I really wondered what the hell Wes was doing with my time. Snippets for the secondary players:
NORTON – [I hope he never reads that] he is perfectly boyish in the role of earnest camp counselor.
MURRAY – We all like him.
MCDORMAND – We all like her.
WILLIS – Funny and I am happy to see him but I feel like I’ve seen him play Somber Sadman a hundred fucking times.
SCHWATRZMAN – You still here?
KEITEL – Quite welcome. He looks weirder, though, here in Wes’s boy scout dregs than he did as Ferrara’s nude crack addict cop.
SWINTON – Outshines Wes’s monochrome.
BALABAN – Just looks awkward in Wes’s monochrome (wouldbe Godardite monochrome).

For years I have felt a significant undercurrent steering me away from the work of Wes Anderson. David Thomson’s flip entry for Wes, for instance, in his Biographical Dictionary of Film is an insouciant two lines long, by far the shortest in his tome, and it reads: “Watch this space. What does that mean? That he might be something one day.” Truth is I’ve never minded the man (“mostly harmless”). I recall that I saw Wes’s first film, Bottle Rocket, before Wes had a name to go by and before I knew Nicholas Ray from Satyajit Ray. It stood out to me as a highly competent, charming little film made by a special man who really understood the medium. Later films came and while my interest waned I found myself never pissed off (a feat indeed). So I do not wish to imply that this time around, I had a bone to pick with Wes. But Moonrise Kingdom felt utterly precious, frivolous, adolescent, mannered, esoteric, and over-produced (which for Wes is saying something). In a word: too Wes for Wes. Choking, sweating with Wes-isms. A confection nobody asked for. A musical for introverted hipsters. It’s worth noting that every critic adores it and I am left uncertain for feeling that I am owed pathos. It’s a dollhouse, folks. Let’s not lose our heads over it.

Moonrise Kingdom seems to be tailored to youths or to Wes’s own children – the “For Juman” ending appellation does feel like a father’s loving Nite Nite peck (made strange by Juman Malouf’s status as Anderson’s femmebeau). Really, the problem would be saying too much about the film. Auteurs tell stories in the same way, through the same voice, and you either like watching them work or you don’t. Fantastic Mr. Fox may have been enjoyable because Wes was doing something we hadn’t seen before (though I never once have thought about the film since the initial viewing). Darjeeling Limited and Life Aquatic were Wes stretching his wings and learning what he could do with a budget – but they got old fast. Wes the auteur I do not so much mind… Wes the storyteller, I wish, would hunger for more. But if this makes him happy, well, it makes him happy, and goddammit I won’t tell him otherwise. I’ll just write about it on the internet.

written by David Ashley