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Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

June 6, 2012

9/10 Rockwell Redemptions

And that, boys and girls, is how Wes Anderson redeemed himself.

Moonrise Kingdom is about two kids growing up on a New England island town in the ’60s. One of them is a girl, prone to fits of rage and misunderstood by her lawyer parents. One of them is a boy scout (or khaki scout, rather): a true romantic, an orphan, outcasted by his peers and legal guardians. As their pen pal relationship starts to blossom into first love, they decide to run away together. So the boy leaves camp under the cover of night and the girl follows suit with the rest of the town hot on their trail.

Boy, it sure is a funny relationship I’ve had with Wes Anderson over the years. Not that I know him on a personal level, I bet he’s all class, but as someone who once had The Royal Tenenbaums in his Top Ten, let’s just say the thrill had gone for a while there. Didn’t much care for The Life Aquatic, quickly developed what some might call a hatred for The Darjeeling Limited, and it wasn’t until Fantastic Mr. Fox that I started getting those warm, fuzzy feelings again. But not counting how fantastic Mr. Fox was, the cold, hard truth is that it’s been 11 years since I’ve enjoyed a live-action Wes Anderson movie. Makes me sad just thinking about it.

But then along comes Moonrise Kingdom, and just like that, the streak is broken. Life is good again, order has been restored. Although the weird thing about it is nothing much has changed.

Most notable is that this is the most Wes Anderson-looking movie that Wes Anderson’s ever made. His style is so refined at this point that you could pick it out of a crowd the way you could pick out a Picasso at the Met. If you’ve seen a Wes Anderson movie, you know what I’m talking about, so rather than bore us all to tears by going over all the things that make his movies look the way they do, I’ll say this: if Norman Rockwell had turned to film instead of canvas, this is the movie he’d make. It’s a vibe that couldn’t have been captured past the Kennedy/Eisenhower years, and from a stylistic standpoint, it just makes sense. Anderson’s been dressing his characters in Rockwell Wear for ages, so why not send them back to an era where they fit in? After all, they can’t call you a hipster if that’s just how people dress (write that one down). Everything from the colors to the costumes, the carefully selected cast to their comically real characters, it all feels so nostalgically American, so fitting for the pure, endearing story at hand. Folks, at the sake of sounding like a guy who spends his weekend picking out Picassos at the Met, this is what you call a walking, talking work of art, the kind you’d hang up on a wall if you could. Even if you somehow don’t like anything else this movie has to offer, at least you can just sit there and enjoy how damn pretty is.

Anyway, you get the idea. In addition to how unmistakably “Wes Anderson” it looks, there’s also the way it sounds. As per usual, deadpan’s the name of the game, and as per usual, I just love how deadpan it is. Again, nothing new for Wes Anderson, but it does seem new for some reason. Maybe I’ve just gotten used to directors who mistake shouting matches and waterworks for human emotion, or maybe it’s been a while since Anderson’s pulled it off so well. Whatever it is, it’s refreshing how much gets conveyed through such muted performances. I mean, right from the get-go, everyone’s got that “staring contest” look on their faces like they’re all business all the time. It really shouldn’t work, because carrying on a real-life conversation with these human golems would freak me the hell out, but when they deliver their lines, they make it their own. It’s just such a unique approach, and it’s incredibly effective at making these characters seem more interesting and eccentric than they probably would be under someone else’s direction. A large amount of credit does go to the way Anderson and Roman Coppola develop these characters on paper, along with their knack for writing deadpan dialogue, but it’s the actors who really tie it all together.

Which leads us to the cast…

First, there’s your regulars. The one true god that is Bill Murray is fantastic as Suzy’s dad, and there’s also a great cameo from a Wes Anderson legend that I’ll leave you to discover on your own. Aaand…that does it. When I started writing this, I actually thought there’d be a bigger list, but lo and behold, those are the regulars. As for the newcomers though, Ed Norton is priceless as beleaguered Scout Master Ward (why on Earth doesn’t he do more stuff?); Tilda Swinton is enjoyable as Social Services; so is Frances McDormand as Suzy’s mom; Bob Balaban is surprisingly awesome as the Narrator; and I seriously don’t know what took so long for Bruce Willis to take a role like this. Remember how good Stallone was in Cop Land? No? I’m the only one? Well, the great thing about Cop Land was how Stallone transformed his usual tough guy role by playing it down for once instead of going all Lincoln Hawk on us. Well after taking the same damn roles in the same damn movies for almost the last three decades of his career, here’s B.W. as a small-town, mild-mannered John McClane in flood pants, and wouldn’t you know, it’s one of the best things he’s ever done. Amazing what happens when you stop shooting your way through plot lines, hope he comes to the same realization before The Expendables 3 gets green-lit.

But the real stars here are the kids, both of whom have never been in a movie before, which is insane. Our Scout escaped is Sam, and he’s played by Jared Gilman. Our “disturbed” daughter is Suzy, and she’s played by Kara Hayward. I love everything about these kids. I love Gilman’s lisp, I love Hayward’s piercing eyes, I love the way they seem so natural around each other, I love how simultaneously innocent and mature they are. They look the part, they act the part, and they make it so easy to root for their characters, to instantly sympathize with the adventure they’re on and why they embarked on it in the first place. There are actually a bunch of kids in this movie, all of whom are great for that matter, but Gilman and Hayward are the bedrocks.

Seriously. Love those kids.

Now, I’m white, so it’s kind of in my nature that I like Wes Anderson, but still, I get that he’s not for everyone. After all (and I think I’ve mentioned this before), word on the street is that Ben Stiller once broke up with a girl because she “didn’t get” Rushmore. Not to mention that the first thing out of my dad’s mouth when I told him I saw this was, “Is it weird?” And even though no, it’s not, it’s still a Wes Anderson movie, inside and out. But coming from a prodigal fan, if ever there were a movie to convince you of everything that people love about Wes Anderson, Moonrise Kingdom is it.

I’ve tried not to overuse the word here, but this is a beautiful movie to watch and a beautiful movie to experience. Such an inspired, fantastically-told, universal story about the lengths we’ll go to for love that’s as funny as it is heartfelt. Man, I could rant more than I already have, but to me, this one’s a no-brainer, even for the skeptics. When I walked out of that theater, I floated out; smiling like an idiot, high on life, making calls to see who would see it with me again. I watch a lot of movies (too many, some might say), and at the end of the day, it’s movies like these that keep me coming back.

There really is something wonderful about young love, isn’t there? Puts things into perspective for all us grown-up types.

20 Comments leave one →
  1. Ryan permalink
    June 6, 2012 9:03 am

    Really didn’t care for Life Aquatic or Darjeeling Limited…. it would take a lot for me to gamble $14 on seeing this in theaters. Wish he would have just made a Fantastic Mr. Fox Sequel

    • June 6, 2012 9:42 am

      Brotha, you and I are on the same freakin’ page. Didn’t care for Life Aquatic either, and I borderline hated Darjeeling Limited. This is Royal Tenenbaums/Rushmore/Fantastic Mr. Fox good. Trust.

  2. HermioneO permalink
    June 7, 2012 6:19 am

    I LOVED Cop Land! It’s one of my three favorite Stallone films, the other two being Get Carter and Victory.

    Haven’t seen Moonrise Kingdom yet, but I’m hoping to.

    • June 7, 2012 9:45 am

      Right on! I’m not alone!

      But I gotta say, those are two awfully interesting choices for favorite Stallone films. You ever see First Blood or the original Rocky?

      Anyway, go see Moonrise Kingdom. Out of sight, you’ll love it.

      • HermioneO permalink
        June 8, 2012 6:36 am

        You know, I tend to forget First Blood even though I watch it every time it comes on TV. OK, my 4 favorite Stallone films are Cop Land, Get Carter, Victory and First Blood.

        I tend to not include Rocky (any of them) in my listing. It’s sort of like the Godfather. On its own.

      • June 8, 2012 10:30 am

        But the first Rocky is SO GOOOOOOOD!

        And never forget First Blood. NEVER!

  3. June 8, 2012 10:35 am

    “Now, I’m white, so it’s kind of in my nature that I like Wes Anderson…”

    ^ Hahaha! Come to think of it… that might hold some semblance of truth. When the trailer for the movie came out, I got the “Have you seen the ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ trailer?!?!” from white friends. I was like, “No…” So then I watched it. I saw it was from Focus Features. Lookin’ good. Diggin’ the music. Color palate lookin’ great. Then… “Directed by Wes Anderson” flashed on the screen. I was like, “Oh, fuck.” (In a bad way.) Still have thoughts about how much I hated “The Darjeeling Limited.” (Not that impressed w/ “Fantastic Mr. Fox.”)

    But I just might see it given reviews like this–surprised that it’s actually pretty good. I’m ready to no longer sneer when the name Wes Anderson is uttered or seen.

    • June 8, 2012 10:53 am

      Hahaha. It’s always a bit of a battle telling my friends to go see Wes Anderson movies (not including Rushmore, that’s a breeze).

      Totally agree with you on Darjeeling, but I was a total sucker for Mr. Fox.

      Hope you like this though, highly recommend giving it a shot.

  4. June 8, 2012 4:40 pm

    I loved this too, I even got to write about for Hollywood Elsewhere.

    A serious question though, do kids play anymore?

    • June 11, 2012 10:40 am

      Congrats, dude! And glad you agree.

      And I wholeheartedly believe that kids still play, not including video games.

  5. June 13, 2012 12:03 am

    I saw it yesterday when I hadn’t yet read your review. I stopped by a theater and randomly grabbed a ticket. Surprise! I LOVE Moonrise! It is so innocent, sweet and hilarious, the only thing that cheered me up on Monday.:)

    • June 13, 2012 9:26 am

      I am SO jealous that you saw it like that (and liked it so much to boot!). I can’t remember the last time I saw a movie on a whim, but what a great feeling, especially with a movie like this. Every Monday should be so awesome.

  6. Moose permalink
    July 16, 2012 12:24 pm

    Finally saw this last week(has it really already been out for a month?). Obviously loved it since it was classic Wes. I somehow missed the bad ones, so I never saw Life Aquatic or Darjeeling, so I’m still batting 1.000 on his movies.

    • July 25, 2012 11:33 am

      Glad you agree! Still at the top of my list for best movie of the year so far. And if I were you, I’d stop while you’re ahead and just wait for his next movie to come out.

  7. August 31, 2012 9:19 pm

    Probably the best indie film of the year, although I haven’t had the chance to see Beasts of the Southern Wild. It had to be Wes Anderson’s best. I have never been a huge fan of Anderson’s pictures. He has a spectacular vision, but he doesn’t understand the human condition or mindset. That changes with this film. Anderson gets sympathy and sadness exactly right in Moonrise Kingdom, which is what makes the film works. He makes the film heart-breaking yet funny at the same time. That, ‘O my brothers,’ is an accomplishment.

    • September 11, 2012 10:25 am

      Well you gotta see BotSW, but this is still my #1 of the year, indie or otherwise. I’ve been a fair weather Anderson fan over the years, the high point being Rushmore and the low point The Darjeeling Limited. However, loved Fantastic Mr. Fox, and this is arguably the best-looking movie he’s ever made. Just an amazing movie inside and out, one that’s hard to not adore on so many levels. Glad you dug it!

  8. September 22, 2012 2:14 pm

    Ah, why did I know you would love this as much as I hated it? 🙂
    Wanna see my review for it?
    1 point for the bedspreads, 1 point for the fog, 1 point because I love (and miss) going camping. 1 point for Edward Norton. 1 last point for Bruce Willis’ stylish glasses. Minus 1 point for the predictable appearance of vinyls. Minus 2 points for… the fact that Bradley Cooper wasn’t in this film. Makes 3/10.

    • September 24, 2012 12:32 pm

      Yikes, Anna. You are gonna hate my end-of-the-year rundown.

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