I like Wes Anderson. I just flat out like him. Each of his films, even the not so great ones, are a unique vision that tend to be quite revealing about our reality.
Moonrise Kingdom is not the best Anderson film, but it is the first great film of 2012 that I have seen. It is a film that (despite its PG-13 rating) is perfect for adolescents. Why? Because it does not talk down to them.
Describing what happens in any Anderson film is a challenge. They’re usually so simple that they could be the plot of a children’s book. I think that’s part of the point. But anyway, two adolescents in 1960s New England run away together. Those are Sam (Jared Gilman), an orphan who is unpopular in his khaki scout troop, and Suzy (Kara Hayward), whose parents are both attorneys. They meet backstage at a play and subsequently travel around their island home to a place where the grown ups that torment them cannot find them. This leads to the formation of a search party, consisting of Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton), police Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis), and Suzy’s parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand).
I normally dislike child actors on principle, for a variety of reasons. Usually they are annoying and unprofessional. The characters they are called upon to create are one-dimensional stereotypes that say nothing about childhood. A film that centers around them is usually doomed because such a film will force audiences to spend time with characters they are wholly unappealing.
That is not the case in Moonrise Kingdom. The two kids are the best aspect of this film, and actually act like adolescents rather than the usual kiddie film idea of adolescents. They actually have emotional depth, and seem convinced to imitate what they see or read about. Yes, there are scenes in which the kids that flirt with controversy (Suzy asks Sam to touch her breasts, and then tries to reassure him that “they will grow more”) yet I found those moments to be very revealing about who the characters are. These kids are trapped in a fantasy realm and are acting out the sort of adventure stories Suzy reads to Sam. And Sam, dressed in his raccoon fur hat (while complaining about the heat) and trying to play the role of the brave wilderness man also fits into that narrative. What else would they do if not add the usual princess falling in love with the common man element to their own lives? That’s how the story goes.
The two child actors take these roles with absolute conviction and make their attempts to become Sam and Suzy seem effortless. Frankly, I enjoyed every aspect of these characters and am still thinking about what they were trying to say. Perhaps Wes Anderson is talking about why kids pretend? Or trying to suggest that most kids today are starved of stories that broaden their minds and encourage them to take chances? Anderson at least has something to say about childhood. That’s more than anyone who is employed at the Disney Channel can say.
The rest of the film is full of the usual Anderson trademarks, from the great soundtrack to the bright colors that seem to emphasize the exaggerated reality that the characters inhabit. All of the adults are their usual quirky selves (particularly Murray, who owes his career revitalization to Anderson) and the violent third act conflict (an approaching hurricane, which wags may say symbolizes adolescence, but I think it just provides another fantasy element so characters can do fantastic things like get hit with lightning and then walk away unscathed). I do kind of wish that Anderson would branch out and try other dramas, rather than continuously going back to making the same films he has been making for his entire career. But it works for a lot of his material. Treating Moonrise Kingdom as a realistic drama would have underscored the child like whimsy that the film needed.
Moonrise Kingdom is like any other Wes Anderson film and does not really do much to change his usual style. But right now, that’s a good thing. He’s managed to carve out such a singular vision that I have a difficult time comparing him to anyone else. So, at a time when most people are buying tickets to films in the same way they buy fast food, it is brave to see a film like Moonrise Kingdom playing wide. I hope people are seeing it.
Now, can we PLEASE get Anderson to go ahead and do a live action adaptation of a Roald Dahl book? I know he’s already directed Fantastic Mr Fox, but it’s quite evident that he still wants to make, say, another version of Matilda.