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Monday, June 18, 2012

Moonrise Kingdom (Limited Release Date: 5-25-2012)

        Wes Anderson. Even just typing the name feels like an invitation for a debate, with one side's eyes watering in dewy amazement, while the other sneers snidely. There's no denying that Wes has style, all dead-pan humor, with countless nods and homages to the works of Hal Ashby, and everyone within 100 miles of the French New-Wave. It's a consistent, unique tone, one that he seems completely unable to escape, and one which no current American director has figured out how to replicate. Like Tim Burton, or Michael Bay, Anderson has churned out enough films with the same look and feel to prompt quite a bit of mockery from folks who put a premium on variety. Those with the taste for the stuff, however, lap each new offering up with vigor and excitement. It will come as a surprise to no one that Moonrise Kingdom not only refuses to tone down the auteur's signature quirks, but might just stand as the most Wes Anderson-y movie that Wes Anderson has ever made.

        Set on a fictional island off the coast of New England in the mid-60's, Kingdom tells the story of a pre-teen pair of social pariahs. Suzy (Kara Hayward) stalks quietly around her parents' massive, maze-like home, emotions ever-vieled by both a venomous glare, and a pair of binoculars. Sam (Jared Gilman) is the more out-going, out-spoken of the pair, but that doesn't mean that his know-it-all attitude and inability to follow orders sits well with his peers. The two meet randomly one summer day, striking up a pen-pal relationship that culminates with the two running away into the woods together one year later. A typically Andersonian supporting cast of older Hollywood stars playing narcissistic, defeated, or both (Bill Murray, Francis McDormand, Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, and Tilda Swinton... Just to name a few) sets out across the island to find the trouble-makers, while the pubescent lovers wander excitedly through trees and hormones.

        The brainiac protagonist who thinks he's smarter than he really is. The the stoic, deflated acceptance of infidelity. Bold, mono-colored costumes. Minimal smiles. By now, the, 'Wes Anderson drill,' can be boiled down to a formula, but it's interesting through-out Kingdom to see him wrestle with ways to take that signature aesthetic to the next level. For one, he finally sets a movie in the damn 60s, which, in truth, is where his work has always been theoretically located. He even toys with era-appropriate camera lensing, and when, in the film's finest scene, we see young Hayward from afar as she prepares to jump into the ocean, the romantic fuzz that covers her face brings us back to a yesteryear of film.

        The actors here perform at a variety of different levels. Most of the adults, Murray and McDormand especially, seem to just mope around, their characters' dull sadness serving as their only developed trait. Norton fairs better as a would-be Boy Scout Master, but the real stars of the show are the two youngest thespians on board, both in their big-screen debut. Gilman is either an effortless actor, or not much of an actor at all, and that strange contradiction plays perfectly into his youthful rebelliousness. Hayward feels like she fell right out of the 60s, proving the real find of the cast with her whip-smart brevity, and ever-simmering attitude. I'm not sure exactly where to rank Kingdom amidst Anderson's greater movies, but suffice to say it's easily his best live-action flick since The Royal Tenenbaums. A breezy, sweet love story about being young, striking out new ground, and defining yourself in a mad, mad, mad world.

Grade: B+

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