Movie Review: Moonrise Kingdom

There are probably five or six modern era directors who get me giddy schoolgirl levels of excited whenever they release a new film:  Quentin Tarantino, Paul Thomas Anderson, the Coen Bros, Christopher Nolan, David Fincher, and Wes Anderson.  They don’t have nonstop output, and tend to favor quality over quantity.  They all have careers in which I love 90% of what they’ve ever put out (or in a few cases, 100%).  All of these guys seem more like passion project directors than paycheck directors.  And they all make films that feel like actual films, that have an eye for cinematography and editing in addition to getting the story across.

Wes Anderson in particular has earned a place in my heart forever.  He works on every level for me.  As a filmmaker, he has a superb eye for framing his shots, and even more so for art direction.  No one does art direction like Wes Anderson.  I’m sure you could argue that his films aren’t the best examples of art direction in the history of cinema, but it would be hard to argue that he hasn’t achieved a certain  consistent style of uber-detailed art direction, stuck with it, and made it his own.  He’s about the closest thing we have today to an auteur filmmaker.  And on an emotional level, and a comedy level, and an emotionally comic level (?), he works for me too.  Now I’ve gone two paragraphs without directly mentioning the film I’m supposed to be reviewing…

Moonrise Kingdom fits right in with the rest of Wes Anderson’s work.  It’s got all the static shots, dollhouse-like set placement, and slow-motion walking shots you’d expect.  That’s in addition to the witty banter, nonsensical elements, and random bursts of playful violence seen in all his films as well.  As usual, the protagonist(s) are outsiders, with deeply woven anarchy embroidered in their guts.  You know, a much as I rip on Tim Burton for doing the same thing over and over again, so does Anderson.  Only, each Anderson project actual holds up on its own merits.  And at least they’re original ideas (sans Fantastic Mr. Fox).

Most of his work tends to naturally drift in its own way here and there, with unexpected outcomes and an exploratory, spiritual atmosphere.  Moonrise, to me however, felt like possibly his most linear film.  Everything I kind of expected to have happen, actually did in one degree or another.  So from a plot perspective, it wasn’t quite up to par with what I like from his earlier work.

But from a chaos perspective…  ohhhhhhh yes, it was glorious.  Stabbings, lightning bursts, explosions…  They all found their way in the film.  Much like in Rushmore, there are a slew of menacing children acting, well, like they are in a Wes Anderson movie…  There’s something I just naturally admire about watching a group of children walk through a field holding makeshift battle weapons.  If Anderson were ever to adapt another novel, I hope it would be Lord of the Flies.  Holy shit, that would be amazing.

Moonrise probably had the most star-studded cast of all his projects as well.  The new faces are adequate in what they were asked to do, but Edward Norton really comes across like he wants to be in this film.  He was a lot of fun to watch.  Bruce Willis continues his tradition of either playing a cop, a retired cop, a criminal, or a retired criminal.  Bill Murray is always good in an Anderson film.  Jason Schwartzman and Harvey Keitel have really fun, albeit really small roles as scout leaders.  The two lead child actors?  They have moments of simply average acting skills here and there, but overall they do a good enough job to carry the film on their shoulders.  In reality, they don’t have a ton of lines, and a lot of their strongest scenes are the one’s with the least words.  They do some fine (intentional) staring-into-the-camera work.

Ironically, the one Wes Anderson film that takes place in the 1960s doesn’t have any British Invasion songs on the soundtrack.  It instead has an interesting score by the same guy who scored Fantastic Mr. Fox, and a few older radio songs, all of it working to the benefit of the film’s atmosphere.  It had a French New Wave vibe to it, as all of his films do to some degree.  In fact, in college I remember once writing a 10 page paper comparing Anderson to his French New Wave influences.  Ah, film school…  you exciting, fun joke of a degree, you…

Where does Moonrise Kingdom rank in my Anderson greatness scale?  From best on the top:

Royal Tenenbaums
Life Aquatic
Darjeeling Limited
Moonrise Kingdom
Fantastic Mr. Fox
Bottle Rocket

But keep in mind, despite the fact that I’ve ranked them here, I happen to love ALL of those movies.  It’s just a matter of which ones I love more than the others.  Moonrise just didn’t have the emotional backing, to me, that the ones above it have.  I lump Moonrise with Mr. Fox, as both of those films seem like Wes Anderson experiments.  Two films that play around with all the tools that Anderson uses, but aren’t quite in the same mold as “classic Anderson”.  Kind of just “what would happen if I added my touch to this” type of films.  Luckily, they still have his labor of love and detail in them, so it doesn’t ever dive into Burton-esk “TURN ALL THE TREES CURLY AND BLACK AND LET’S CALL IT A DAY” territory.  In fact, if anything, Moonrise was a slight departure in style for him.  Slight, though.  Seeing as this and Fox are his two most recent films, I think it’s safe to say that this kind of thing is going to be the natural evolution of the filmmaker, and we may never see a film like Tenenbaums out of him again.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because his work is still very exciting.  And to be honest with you, I’d probably rather watch a Wes Anderson experiment instead of the *best films* of a lot of other directors.

8.5 out of 10

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