Review: Moonrise Kingdom

Moonrise Kingdom opened in New York in LA on May 25th, San Francisco on June 1st, and spreads wider to even more theaters this weekend. Here is a review.

Wes Anderson movie, a brief sketch:


What do we do??

I’ll be deadpan!

I’ll talk in code!

I’ll draw up the children’s storybooks!

I’ll make a checklist! (*speaking into bullhorn*) Precociousness? Check! Earth tones? Check! Checklist? Check!

Glib rejoinder!

Awkward silence!

FIN. (*acoustic song sung in foreign language plays over the credits*)

Set on the adorably-named New England island of New Penzance, a place quirkily explained directly to the audience by fourth-wall breaking, jaunty red-scarf-clad narrator Bob Balaban, Moonrise Kingdom follows Sam, a 12-year-old foster child and Khaki Scout (uniforms! badges! titles! jargonal minutiae!) who has escaped his troop and run away with an island girl. Hot on their trail are charmingly dorky Khaki Scout leader Edward Norton (lists to make! rules to follow! memos to self!), lovably morose police chief Bruce Willis (vintage melancholy! antiquated alcoholism!), the girl’s wacky lawyer parents played by Frances McDormand and Bill Murray  – who call each other ‘counselor’ (jargon! codes! marriage trouble!), and impeccably-dressed social worker Tilda Swinton (retro costumes! retro hats! archaic vernacular!).

Moonrise Kingdom is basically the part in Royal Tenenbaums where Richie and Margot run away from home and camp out in a museum, stretched into its own movie. Is young Sam entranced by a dour, artsy girl with too much eye make-up and a strained relationship with her parents? You bet he is! Does she communicate her affection through intense glances and music on vinyl? YOU BET YOUR MADRAS SHE DOES! And in this case, the music is smoky French pop, because artsy movie chicks and French shit go together like baguettes and paté. Sam and Suzy dance to it on the beach. It’s like Rockwell painted a goddamned Stella Artois commercial.

Point being, if you’ve seen enough Wes Anderson movies, certain patterns start to emerge, and Moonrise Kingdom plays like a bullet-pointed refresher course on all of them.

  • Young love on the run.
  • Marriage trouble.
  • Sons without fathers finding fathers without sons.
  • Yellow text. Childlike drawings.
  • Conversations in specialized vernacular.
  • Every scene matter-of-factly center-framed like American Gothic.
  • Oh yeah, and lists.

I’ve seen all his movies and loved all but one or two, but even for me, watching Moonrise was an odd sensation. It’s not quite self-plagiarism, but it’s like being able to witness that exact moment when an artist’s idiosyncrasies become expectations, that precise instant that “Freebird” goes from being a song you love to play to a song you have to play, unless you want angry bikers throwing bottles of Miller at your head. In Wes Anderson’s case, the bike would probably be fixed gear and the throw effeminate, but the gesture’s the same. DO YOUR WHIMSY DANCE, KITSCH MONKEY! WE’RE NOT PAYING YOU TO MATURE!

It’s not that I didn’t enjoy it, it’s just… Every time I re-watch Royal Tenenbaums, I have the same reaction. I get drawn in by the stylish opening, then it starts to drag, and the Wes Andersonisms, the too-conspicuous production design, the style threatens to overwhelm the story. I start to wonder why I ever liked it so much in the first place. Then, just when I think I’ve emotionally detached completely, the end comes like an emotional kick to the guts and I realize how invested I actually was and end up loving it all the more. Moonrise Kingdom was a similar experience, but heightened. Having a personal style is great, but you have to balance that with the content, so that it doesn’t become more about the teller than the story. Style, like plaid, is impossible to ignore in Moonrise, where I can’t think of a single theme that hasn’t already been covered in previous Wes Anderson movies. It’s just so f*cking cute. There’s only so much 12-year-olds in love I can take. They’re 12. There isn’t much to 12-year-olds’ relationships beyond initial attraction, but Moonrise tries to stretch it into this weird, quasi-chaste pedo-Rockwell romance. It feels like a pre-pubescent fantasy, and I’m sure that was partially intended, but it’s not a good thing. Kids acting like mini-adults is not enjoyable to watch. It’s perverted and sanitized at the same time. Even if we’re going to retread the same ground, Moonrise desperately needs some hellraisers and shitheads, like Royal Tenenbaum or Herman Blume.

And yet, the ending still managed to give me that “D’aaaaww” feeling when it came together just so. Khaki Scouts aside, the acting is impeccable, and the way it ends in a crescendo of a foreshadowed weather event, paralleling Benjamin Britton’s opera “The Flood,” which we see the island kids performing at the community church (it’s where Sam initially meets Suzy, in fact), is masterful. If the film had played more with that, and had focused more on the relationships between the adults, rather than the 12-year-olds playing a hipster’s idea of house, it could’ve been great, instead of just good.

It’s a cute movie. I liked it. But we’re used to seeing cute from Wes Anderson. It’s time to grow. Wes Anderson tried something new in Fantastic Mr. Fox, and it worked. Moonrise will probably end up being one of his most successful movies, because the general public has caught on to what Wes Anderson does. And there’s always money to be made in fulfilling people’s expectations. I just hope expectations don’t start dictating his choice of projects.