Movie ReviewsRating: 2 of 5 yaps

Moonrise Kingdom

I go back and forth on Wes Anderson. He’s a very specific kind of filmmaker, to the point that there is now a recognizable “Wes Anderson style” that is much derided but little imitated. (Do a YouTube search to view some fun-poking examples.)

From the disaffected characters who speak their dialogue in deliberately flat cadences, to the oddball time-warping fashion sense, to the now-obligatory reliance on obscure pieces of music to punctuate and comment on the proceedings, Anderson’s films are stylistic carbon copies of each other, merely swapping out storylines and characters (though many of the same actors reappear time and again).

The problem with that is there’s a dread sense of sameness to his movies. It’s like going to a bunch of different restaurants and ordering the exact same meal. There will be some variations in flavor, texture and certainly in quality, but you walk in knowing what you’re going to get.

I liked “Rushmore,” and liked “The Royal Tenenbaums” a lot, but “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” was so wretchedly unwatchable I didn’t even bother seeing his next one, “The Darjeeling Limited.”

Personally, I thought the best marriage of Anderson’s aesthetic with the material was the stop-motion animation gem, “The Fantastic Mr. Fox.” Perhaps it was just because using fake furry critters instead of humans represented the first distinct break from his previous body of work, and that made it seem fresh.

His newest, “Moonrise Kingdom,” is a return to the rut.

The sole variation here is that the spotlight is on children while the adult characters populate the background. It’s 1965 and on the isolated New Penzanze Island off of New England, 12-year-olds Sam Shakusky and Suzy Bishop decide to run away together. Of course since it’s an island, they don’t really have anywhere to go, but it’s more a journey about rejecting where they come from than anywhere they’re heading.

Sam is an orphan living with foster parents, but actually spends most of his time at Camp Ivanhoe, a summer camp for the Khaki Scouts of North America. The man/boy commander, Scout Master Randy Ward (Edward Norton), acknowledges that Sam was the least popular scout but is still chagrined by the resignation letter he leaves behind.

Suzy lives in a rambling multi-story house called Summer’s End with her three younger brothers and parents (Frances McDormand and Bill Murray), who are both distracted lawyers. Suzy wears neon-colored eye shadow (apparently impervious to the elements) and loves to read books where girls go on adventures in fantasy lands or on alien planets.

After meeting at a church play a year earlier, Sam and Suzy been corresponding by mail and planning their escape, which throws the entire island into a state. Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis), whose position appears to be nautical but represents the only semblance of police power, is brought in to lead the search with the help of the Khakis. Hovering around the edges of the story is Tilda Swinton as Social Services — that’s how she refers to herself, no name — threatening to whisk Sam off to an orphanage.

Sam and Suzy are played by newcomers Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward, respectively. They both seem like engaging performers, but it’s hard to judge their true talent since Anderson (who co-wrote the screenplay with Roman Coppola) requires them to say all their lines in unemotive declarations. They always sound like they’re announcing themselves rather than talking to each other.

(Both are also rather mush-mouthed, and I often struggled to understand what they were saying. I suppose you could make the argument this makes them sound more like authentic kids, but verisimilitude has never been Anderson’s bag.)

My biggest problem with “Moonrise Kingdom” is that it’s a coming-of-age story in which both children already behave like cynical, melancholic adults. If they’re this jaded and disconnected at 12, how are they going to stand each other at 42?

Consider this exchange of dialogue after a violent encounter with the other scouts, in which the Khaki mascot pooch has been slain with an arrow:

Sam: They got him right through the neck.
Suzy: Was he a good dog?
Sam: (pregnant pause) Who’s to say?

That sure doesn’t sound like any kid I knew. For that matter, why does Sam wear a coonskin hat, despite it being the scorching finale of summer? How come he smokes a pipe? Why is Suzy obsessed with Benjamin Britten’s “The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra,” in which different pieces of symphonic music are layered upon each other one by one as a learning exercise?

I think these elements exist in the movie because Anderson finds them delightfully quirky, and includes them simply for the sheer juxtaposition of eclectic bits ‘n’ pieces. He’s like a hipster standing at the wardrobe of pop culture, plucking out things he likes and trying them on.

Often the ensemble is a genuinely innovative collage of colors and patterns, a bold new way of looking at old things. Sometimes, as with “Moonrise Kingdom,” the result is so blastedly twee and self-satisfied that we just want to sigh, pat the movie on the head and tell it to run along.

2 Yaps

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8 Responses to “Moonrise Kingdom”

  1. Dakoda Ogle says:

    Although I have not personally seen this movie, my mother did see an early screening of it. She said it was completely stupid and really had no point. You would think it would be a decent watch with the bigger name actors in the movie.

  2. Nick Rogers says:

    Jason: That should be fixed on the Prometheus review. Looks like a box that should have been checked by default somehow got unchecked. Comment away on Prometheus!

  3. wow… i didnt expect this review to be so low. i still want to see this though.

    i was going to comment on the Prometheus review instead but it said "comments closed".

  4. Adam Reynolds says:

    I agree with the first paragraph of the review. Wes Anderson keeps putting out movies that are undeniably his own style. Whether for good or bad, he has taken his niche quirkiness and made it mainstream. It would be good to see Wes bring something different to the table if even just for the sake of mixing it up.

  5. Steve B says:

    While I’m a fan of Wes Anderson movies, and this one looks somewhat interesting, it probably will fall into the ‘wait for Netflix’ category. After the first preview last year I was interested, but I also got the feeling I’ve seen it all before once I saw a few more clips of this flick.

    No doubt it will be entertaining. And I think part of the reason these ‘coming of age’ kids are acting like adults is that no kids will end up seeing this, and they they’re behavior is probably more of a projection of how we all wanted to act when we were to immature to do so.

  6. Travis Bow says:

    I’m really looking forward to seeing this, although I’ll wait til it’s out of the big theatre, and at the "50 cent theatre" I’m a big Edward Norton fan, and am glad he’s doing a Wes Anderson flick. Seems like a natural pairing.

  7. Becky Meredith says:

    This was one of those movies you kept expecting that it would have to get better soon and it never did. Had to believe that 12 year olds we allowed to marry, and run away without any further searching. Very slow, very unbelievable, and, very disappointed in Bruce Willis even showing up in such a movie. Almost fell asleep, it was so slow. Not even a rental!!!!

  8. Moonrise Kingdom was different from any other movie I have ever seen. This movie was funny, heartfelt and serious. This movie held my attention. The young actors were good and I enjoyed the story line. This really was a good movie and I totally enjoyed it!