It’s no secret that I dislike Wes Anderson as a director. For those too lazy to read my post explaining why, I’ll give you the bullet points. I’m not a fan because, to me: his movies have no heart, are boring, pretentious, and bland, leaving his only redeeming quality being his ability to create visually stunning images, which is not a great enough reason to respect him as a director. I’ve long said the only film that I thought Wes Anderson did successfully was Fantastic Mr. Fox because his style of humor works well animated. Plus, since the story was already based off a book, my assumption has been that perhaps making the characters likable shouldn’t be accredited to Anderson. Going into Anderson’s latest film, Moonrise Kingdom, I attempted to let go of all expectations and preconceived notions I had of Anderson in an attempt to fully submerge myself once again with an open mind. The only thing I expected from Moonrise Kingdom was a beautiful collage of images that, admittedly, Anderson is a master at producing.
Sam (Jared Gilman) is an orphaned cub scout discovered missing from the most prominent boyscout group, The Khakis Scouts, in 1965. Leaving a note of his resignation from the group, Sam’s disappearance prompts a wide-spread search for him from his fellow boy scouts and a local policeman, Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis). Meanwhile, Suzy (Kara Hayward), a volatile preteen in a dysfunctional family who lives in the same New England town, has run away from her home in order to embark on a quest with Sam, her new love. The two encounter a slew of hilarious situations, dangerous encounters, and tender moments as they fall more in love with each other and attempt to stay together despite forces attempting to pull them apart.
As the film started, I was rewarded with aesthetically pleasing shots and gorgeous color schemes and lighting, but I couldn’t help but think that Anderson was only out-Wes Andersoning himself. Featuring a cast primarily made up of adolescents, nothing is out-of-order or in disarray within Moonrise Kingdom. Kids don’t play with toys or go outside, they instead sit quietly in their rooms listening to records or reading while all their board games and knick knacks are stacked away and organized neatly. When they’re not living a routine life of aesthetic structure in the home, they do so in boy scouts camps, a setting heavily featured throughout the film. I assumed the reason for the camp’s prominent placement in the film was just an excuse to make everything orderly, neatly placed, and perfect-looking for the sake of an aesthetically pleasing movie.
“Why are you guys playing so neatly right here? Oh, for a picturesque moment? Carry on then.”
I admit, I sighed and rolled my eyes more times than humanly possible for the first half hour of Moonrise Kingdom while scenes trudged on with unfunny, forced moments of humor that only triggered the occasional smirk from me. Much of it played out just the way a typical Wes Anderson movie does: things are slightly absurd without question and characters seem to be nothing more than outlets for what Anderson thought would be cool to say. No one seemed real or interesting, just stale and pretty.
However, as the film continued, all those negative elements washed away and Moonrise Kingdom found its focus in Sam and Suzy and the ride following both becomes an outrageous yet hilariously captivating one. Moonrise Kingdom centers itself around characters with a drive and a relatable human goal and not some ambiguous, unrealistic situation like Anderson’s previous films. It’s an impressive tale of two troubled preteens in love and the means they’ll go to be with each other despite forces trying to separate them.
Love will keep us together… until we reach puberty probably.
Moonrise Kingdom reminded me of Romeo and Juliet meets Bonnie and Clyde, but filmed as if it were an ode to Jean-Luc Godard and French New Wave cinema. Although many elements of Moonrise Kingdom are absurd and quirky, they all make sense within the film because Anderson has finally figured out how to create a believable world all on its own despite having unbelievable aspects.
In the scene that introduces Edward Norton’s character, Scout Master Ward, the camera follows his morning ritual of addressing/insulting his scouts while setting the tasks for the day, all leading to him sitting down at breakfast surrounded by his campers. The scene takes place with very few cuts and has long, very noticeable tracking shots that quickly follow beside Scout Master Ward until he sits in a perfectly set pose with his scouts placed on either side of him in a symmetrical line. Yes, I gagged quite a bit watching the scene; however, the entire sequence is given a purpose later in the film when the scene is repeated with a crucial element missing. The familiarity of it all is what ties the sequence to a greater purpose.
After seeing Moonrise Kingdom I finally have faith in Wes Anderson’s future as a storyteller; perhaps because this film focuses on two major characters and gives minor but in-depth attention to its secondary characters instead of trying to make them major components like his past films did. Or, who knows, maybe it was his semi-ode to French New Wave that made me enjoy Moonrise Kingdom so much. Either way, I’m happy to say Anderson finally got it right and created a beautiful story that relates to the human condition despite the fact that it’s so unusual and eccentric. I finally cared about everyone on-screen, I felt like I knew and understood them, and actions within the film had consequences; it’s funny, it’s heartwarming, it’s intense. Finally, I can say I have watched a Wes Anderson movie that I could use my hands to clap for instead of using them to imitate slow jerking out of disrespect.
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a Sip: for every oh-so-Wes Anderson moment
Take a Drink: for every violent moment
Take a Drink: for every scene that awkwardly goes on for seconds too long
Take a Drink: every time Suzy and/or Sam run away