Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Moonrise Kingdom (Theatrical Review)

Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
Comedy, Drama, Romance, 94 minutes
Directed by Wes Anderson
Starring Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Jason Schwartzman, Bob Balaban and Harvey Keitel

I have to admit that I hadn't seen any Wes Anderson films until two or three years ago and Moonrise Kingdom is the first that I have had the pleasure of seeing in the theater.

My first Anderson experience was Bottle Rocket, and it didn't strike me as remarkable the first time I saw it. However, I found myself thinking about it over the next few days and ended up buying the Criterion Blu-ray.

I think there are a couple of important things to understand about Anderson's films:

The first is the level of detail. It's an assault on the brain and I've come to appreciate subsequent viewings more than with most films. Many lesser comedies fall flat because they run out of ideas and end up repeating them until they approach 90 minutes. Anderson's films have so many ideas it's ridiculous, but five of his seven films are also over by the 94-minute mark. The difference is that they are crammed with ideas and feel fresh and original.

The other major thing to note is the brand of humor. Call it offbeat or quirky, or whatever you like, but it's certainly distinctive. It's the type of humor that uses a phrase or situation which is familiar to you, but surprises you by giving it a different meaning. Think of Police Squad, Naked Gun, or Monty Python, and you'll understand what I mean. Like David Lynch, I think Anderson's mind makes unusual connections that most are incapable of. In order to appreciate his films, you need to investigate all of his worlds and understand the way that he thinks. It might be too much work for the casual viewer.

Let's get to Moonrise Kingdom.

The film is set in the 1960s on a small island off New England. It evokes a sense of nostalgia that's present throughout. This is a time in which cell phones and most electronic entertainment didn't exist. Take a look at the primitive record player for example. The story focuses on the budding romance between Sam (Gilman) and Suzy (Hayward). Sam is a scout and invites Suzy to run away with him, causing the small town to send out a search party.

The supporting cast includes some big names and a few Anderson favorites. The local cop is played by Bruce Willis and he's particularly effective in the role. The Scout Master is played by Edward Norton, who has an exaggerated sense of his own importance. He provides a lot of the humor in the few scenes he is in. Look out for the homage to The Shawshank Redemption when he discovers that Sam is missing.

Frances McDormand and Bill Murray play a married couple and both are lawyers. Jason Schwartzman's appearance is brief, but he makes good use of the time. One of my favorite characters is played by Tilda Swinton, and she is simply referred to as Social Services. Even Bob Balaban's narration is funny. It's hard to go into any more detail without ruining the entire plot, such as it is, so I'll stop there.

I mentioned that Anderson's films require several viewings to take in all the details, but I have to say that Moonrise Kingdom had an immediate impact on me. This is my style of humor and it felt like a Coen brothers movie, such as Burn After Reading, at times. Nothing much happens, but it's the style that's important. If you like Anderson's other films, you will almost certainly appreciate this.

I sometimes wonder what kind of childhood Anderson had. Are these characters based on his own experiences? Most are intelligent and suffered something of a troubled upbringing. When I think of Sam, or Max (from Rushmore), am I seeing the way Anderson views his own early life? Dysfunctional families are a favorite topic of his and Moonrise Kingdom is filled with them. Perhaps I had such an immediate connection to the film because it felt familiar after seeing his other work?

I'll close by saying that Anderson's films won't have universal or even large appeal, but if you appreciate his quirky style, you might just end up loving everything he does. I know that's true for me. I'll always remember that I first watched the film on my 50th birthday with two friends I have known since I was 11. That was a great experience and I would like to watch Moonrise Kingdom again right now.

Overall score 4.5/5 (with the potential to rise to 5/5 after repeat viewings).

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  1. Great post, Steve! I love Anderson and I'm totally looking forward to this one! Oh, amd happy belated birthday :)

  2. Thanks Fernando,

    It was the first film I saw in my 50s, and probably my favorite of 2012 so far.

  3. Nice write-up Steve. Wes Anderson seems like he really brought his A-game to this story and it shows. Everything here just looks beautiful and works out perfectly that it easily has to on my list for best of the year so far. Hopefully Anderson can keep this up.

  4. Thanks Dan,

    I think it's a good place to start for anyone wanting to discover Anderson. I can hardly wait to own it and watch it again.