Sunday, July 15, 2012

Movie Review: "Moonrise Kingdom" by Alex Schopp

Release: 2012
Director: Wes Anderson
Writers: Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola
Actors: Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Harvey Keitel, Jason Schwartzman, Bob Balaban
Rated: PG-13
Run Time: 94 min

It took a while to get here, but Wes Anderson's latest feature, "Moonrise Kingdom", finally made its way to the art theater in my neck of the woods. Wes Anderson movies are always difficult for me to try and evaluate, because they're so unique. I always find his films entertaining, but I'm almost never thinking, man, I really want to pop in a Wes Anderson movie right now. The humor is so dry (which, as I'm watching, is right up my alley) and the direction style so...stylized, that it's hard to really get excited for his films. They're more like art pieces that you just want to take in and appreciate.

All of that being said, I feel like this latest film definitely stood up to the Wes Anderson standards that I've grown accustomed to. My interpretation of this film as well as my rating guide will be slightly different than most other reviews, because there's literally nothing other than other Wes Anderson movies to try and compare this to. I enjoyed it greatly though, and I'm going to go about this review assuming you're familiar with Anderson's previous films and directing styles. I have very little actual negative to say about the film, more of just comparing and contrasting the successes and failures with some of his other works.

For any of you unfamiliar with the Moonrise Kingdom story, it takes place on an island off the coast of New England in the 1960's. A young boy and girl fall in love and are moved to run away together. Various factions of the town mobilize (all of your traditional Anderson-esque characters make their way into the fold) to search for them as the town is turned upside down. As most Anderson films do, this one focuses on the dysfunctional family, with each of them pretty much overcoming different obstacles to find a certain sense of happiness and love.

Off the bat, the humor in the film is spot-on. There were multiple scenes that made me laugh aloud, and as usual, even though many of Anderson's characters were flawed, they all came off in such charming and precious ways that it was impossible not to fall in love with just about every one of them. Anderson's writing is just as witty and smart as ever, and the script shines through from top to bottom. One major complaint with many of Anderson's films is that they're actually too smart for their own good - they come off as un-grounded and fake. And while I generally don't mind those characteristics in his movies, I can still see it. But what was so beautiful about this film is the fact that for the first time we've ever seen in one of his films, the main characters were children. Their larger-than-life dreams and naive-ness makes the characters feel more believable than I've probably ever seen in a Wes Anderson film before. When you take Anderson's approach to characters and put them into children, it goes together like...well, two things that should be together. It felt like a perfect fit.

And as for those two kids, boy were they great choices for this film. Not only did they hold their own with so many other great actors on screen, but even with such little experience behind them (this was the first movie for either of them), they just looked like they were born to be in a Wes Anderson movie. Jared Gilman, who plays Sam, stole the show for me. I loved that his character, this little 12-year old boy, had such big aspirations and was so composed and cool about everything. Kara Hayward's character, Suzy, while equally misunderstood by her surrounding world, is much less charismatic, and generally goes with the flow more so than Sam. But she trusts Sam fully, and is equally as determined to prove her independence. Their uninhibited love, while still child-like and careless, is freeing and inspiring; you really wanted to root for these kids. And even though they act upset in the film, I think the other, older peripheral characters wanted the same, and yearned for the same love and freedom that these children experienced.

And speaking of those peripheral characters, Anderson reunites a few of his regulars, Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman, for another go-round, with other big names like Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, and Harvey Keitel. This ensemble cast is a true joy to watch. If I had any complaints it's that I didn't get enough of any of them. Norton and Schwartzman's characters, both as Scout leaders actually, were my favorites, as they repeatedly provided fantastic scene after fantastic scene. The rest are solid with their performances, and don't really provide anything less than you'd expect.

I loved that the film took place in the 60's - I felt like it was a perfect time period for the styles that Anderson is usually trying to achieve. Much like my earlier comments about his characters sometimes coming off as unrealistic, I find that the case with some of his set designs too (not that that means I dislike it though). But again, the unique style of the 1960's really played perfectly into Anderson's hands, and I feel like he was pretty organically able to incorporate all of these different aspects into his film and have them come off in a very fitting way. But regardless of your thoughts on the reality of his sets and shot designs, they're, as always, beautifully done. His visions are masterful and I can't think of any other director out there that could match the same styles that he does. As I said above, love it or hate it, it's truly refreshing to take in one of these films.

Overall, I'm not sure how much analysis that provided for the film, as I feel like all I did was outline the different traditional aspects of a Wes Anderson film and point out their success rates in this installment. I honestly don't know how to describe this one any other way though. If you have the mindset for Anderson's films, than this one will fall right in line with the rest and provide plenty of enjoyment. I loved watching all of these characters on the screen and I didn't want it to stop. I keep going back to the differences between Anderson's styles and characters in this film as compared to his previous ones, and even though I'm convinced this isn't my favorite from his filmography ("The Royal Tenenbaums"), I feel like he fine tuned his craft just a little bit more than ever before, and I'm hesitant to say so, but I wonder if overall this might be his most successful venture so far? I think Anderson's pure love and care for all of his characters played perfectly into this film and this setting. You have to appreciate his style and be able to pull yourself out of reality a bit, but if you can, this film has a lot to offer. It's funny and inspiring and heartwarming. If it makes its way to you, I definitely recommend checking it out.

P.S. As I said at the very beginning, the rating below is skewed more by working backwards from other Wes Anderson films than by working from the ground up. I'm generally not trying to pop in one of his films and re-watch it all the time, but I feel happy with these numbers as compared to how I'd rate his other films.