Starring Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Jason Schwartzman, Bob Balaban
Directed by Wes Anderson
Expectations: Moderately high. I’m not the biggest Wes Anderson fan.
Over the course of his small filmography, Wes Anderson has carefully honed his unique brand of sleek, hipster art design and Moonrise Kingdom may be the pinnacle of his ability to push the boundaries of the field. At least until his next film arrives. A Wes Anderson film is never mistaken for another filmmaker’s, each one bears the unmistakable attention to detail and meticulously constructed sets and visuals. So when you are somewhat indifferent to one of his films, that feeling kind of runs through all of his films. To be fair, I haven’t seen all of them (I’ve only missed The Darjeeling Limited), but I think it’s fair to assume that I’ll feel similarly about that one too.
Now having said all that, I think Moonrise Kingdom is easily one of Wes Anderson’s best films. But I still don’t really like it. It’s great, but it just ain’t my thing. For me it comes down to two things: the commendable, meticulous design and the pointed dialogue delivery his characters always use. While the perfect design is really cute and interesting to look at, I want to rebel against it. My gruff personality and my penchant for raw, ragged glory makes me want to jump into the movie and just muss everything up as much as possible. In my youth I never really understood why I felt indifferent to Wes Anderson’s movies, but this desire to destroy is definitely the main reason. It’s too perfect.
The second is that damned dialogue delivery. It’s another stylistic choice, and one that works well if you’re into it, but it never works for me. It always feels like people are reading lines, and not just lines, but perfectly constructed lines that have been checked and checked again… meticulously, of course. I do find it interesting that Anderson was able to get the kids to perfectly nail this tone, and again I don’t think it’s bad, it’s just not my thing.
So with the fact that Wes Anderson just ain’t my thing established, let’s talk about what makes this movie one of his best. Moonrise Kingdom is a fairly straightforward tale about a couple of ostracized kids who decide to run away together. The characters of the runaway kids are the heart of the film, and where I connect most to it. I remember being a kid like that, different and feeling alone, so the characters ring true. The boy’s ability to set up perfect campsites all by himself, though, not so much. But this is also one of the film’s greatest strengths, as the surrealistic touches make it stand out from the crowd. It’s not meant to represent reality, Moonrise Kingdom is pure whimsical fantasy set in the real world.
The two newcomer leads are actually so much fun to be with, they overshadow the entire rest of the cast. Whenever the focus shifted to one of the adult characters, I found myself wanting to go back to the kids’ exodus across the island’s wilderness. All of these characters, both adult and child, coming together enriches the film, but I just didn’t care about the adults all that much. Except Bruce Willis, but my feelings for him had to mature and grow as the film played out. So I guess the adults weren’t all bad.
Wes Anderson’s already devoted fans will love Moonrise Kingdom, and this could easily be the movie that turns some people into Wes Anderson fans. The subtle surrealism that amplifies every quirk and takes license with reality might be a deal-breaker for some, but it’s all in service of a wonderfully whimsical story. For those willing to take the ride, Moonrise Kingdom will definitely deliver a ride worth taking.