Fair warning: I believe there are few more polarising directors than Wes Anderson (David Lynch and Stephen Soderbergh come to mind), and while I can appreciate certain aspects of his films, like his brilliant and consistent use of Bill Murray, he has yet to make one that I’ve fully enjoyed.So if you’re expecting a review of “Moonrise Kingdom” from a fan of his previous movies, look elsewhere.
Anderson is known for having a particular kind of style in his films, which I’ll call “quirky,” that has lead to a sizable and passionate legion of followers. But what I assume these fans find interesting, I only see as detachment from reality. The ‘quirkiness’ of his characters may make me laugh, though hardly ever out loud, but they also remind me these aren’t real people. In a way, they don’t exactly feel human, and so I rarely get emotionally invested in them. Unless it’s Bill Murray. I’m always invested in Bill Murray.
I hoped “Moonrise” would finally change my mind on Anderson films.
Maybe I would finally get on board with his style. Even better, perhaps he might have developed the subtle skill of appealing to those not fully on board with all of his quirks, retaining his style, just broader. After decades of films, Woody Allen finally succeed in doing this last summer with “Midnight In Paris,” so surely there was hope.
Unfortunately, I was wrong to expect any change whatsoever. This is a quintessential Wes Anderson movie. Which basically means if you’ve seen “Rushmore,” “The Royal Tenenbaums,” or “The Darjeeling Limited” and enjoyed it, then “Moonrise” is worth seeing. If not though, go for some interesting performances by Anderson favourite Frances McDormand, young newcomers Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman, and beautiful New England scenery.
The plot is simple. Two kids, Sam (Gilman) and Suzy (Hayward) run away together and Sam’s Boy Scout troop (lead by Edward Norton), Suzy’s parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) and a local police officer (Bruce Willis) try to find them in the wake of an impending storm.
In a cast including Willis, Norton, Murray, McDormand, and Swinton, it’s the kids that take centerstage.Newcomers Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward are tasked with pulling off the young romance that sets the whole movie in motion. For the most part, they succeed, but it has nothing to do with the endless barrage of unnecessary close-ups and zoom-ins that Anderson insists on using to convey their feelings.
Hayward in particular may have a promising future in movies. Though one may wish to see more of the adults during the young pair’s extensive scenes, it’s thoroughly enjoyable to see these talents playing off of each other. Whether it’s Murray throwing his shoe at Norton, or McDormand and Willis sneaking off together, these small moments are when the movie is at its best, and an example of what it could have been had they been the primary focus. Murray in particular has a juicy role, but not enough screen time to utilise it.
The best moments come at Sam’s scout camp. Norton shows his character is worth rooting for, playing a very intense, but caring, scout leader. In the eccentric role, he is both entertaining and believable, turning what could have been a one-note performance into the most memorable one of the movie. In addition, an always welcome Jason Schwartzman—though nothing more than a cameo—has the best scene of the film, walking and talking through a Boy Scout headquarters that looks more like West Point.
As with his previous work, one’s opinion of the movies largely comes down to how much of Anderson’s signature ‘quirkiness’ works.
‘Quirks’ that worked:
- Scenes featuring a flood rushing through the island appeared to be shot using miniature sets. This could just be to save on budget, but I’m counting it as a welcome nod to his stop-motion film, “Fantastic Mr. Fox.’
- The opening scene breaks down the score instrument by instrument, all while taking the viewer through Suzy’s home as if it were constructed like a rubix cube. It’s Anderson scenes like this that even sceptics can see his appeal.
‘Quirks’ that didn’t:
- Tilda Swinton’s character is called ‘Social Services,’ the only character without an actual name, and everyone else in the movie calls her by that title as if it were normal. There’s simply no point, just weird for the sake of being weird, but if Anderson wanted to go that route, why not call Suzy’s parents ‘mother’ and ‘father’ and Bruce Willis ‘security?’ It’s the inconsistency that’s the most frustrating.
- As if to prove the movie was supposed to take place in the ’60s, it’s shot like a Dos Equis commercial.
- Bob Balaban plays a narrator who only pops up a handful of times, and has absolutely nothing to do with the plot.
Ever gone to a restaurant famous for their seafood? Though most people may love it, if you don’t like seafood, it’s not like you’ve suddenly grown an appetite for fish. That’s “Moonrise Kingdom.”
[Note from The Wire editor Aly Weisman: “As a fan of Wes Anderson’s work, I loved this film. Creative filmmaking at its finest only enhanced by the perfect casting of both known and unknown actors. Grade: A.”]
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