At its heart, this is a movie about children dressing in all of the airs of adulthood, not for purposes of make believe, but because they are actually grappling with adult-sized emotional issues.
Review by David Feltman
“What kind of bird are you?”
Few directors have as distinct a voice as Wes Anderson. Over the course of seven features, Anderson has cemented his cast, visual style, soundtrack and themes into a children’s picture book that aims its heady messages at the parent as much as the child. To that end, his newest release, Moonrise Kingdom feels like the culmination of his past work, even if it lacks some of the charm and enthusiasm of those previous films.
Working with a robust all-star cast, Anderson weaves a tale of childhood love and misery. Jared Gilman stars as an orphaned Khaki Scout (read Boy Scout) who is despised by his fellow troops and tossed out by his foster parents. Gilman runs away from Camp Ivanhoe with his girlfriend Kara Hayward, which results in parents and scouts scouring the small island of New Penzance. This ensuing “manhunt” includes performances from Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Francis McDormand, Harvey Keitel and Bill Murray.
In Anderson’s world, the line between childhood and adulthood is nearly nonexistent. Children are deputized by the sheriff or encouraged to take a minute to talk it over by the trampoline before rushing into marriage. At its heart, this is a movie about children dressing in all of the airs of adulthood, not for purposes of make believe, but because they are actually grappling with adult-sized emotional issues. This is sometimes played to great comedic effect. After the death of the scout troop’s dog, Hayward asks, “Was he a good dog?” To which Gilman responds in perfect deadpan, “Who can say?”
The adults in the film’s cast are every bit as lost and confused as the children. Hayward’s father is distant and miserable and her mother is extramaritally involved with Willis’ “sad and dumb” local sheriff. And while never carefully examined, the scoutmaster played by Norton exudes melancholy. Anderson draws emotional and visual parallels between Gilman and Hayward and Willis and McDormand as both couples struggle with romantic weights they aren’t equipped to bear. Everyone is lonely and groping in the dark far some kind of human connection. Moonrise Kingdom is at its best when it’s reveling in this personal cache of fear and desire, but spins out of control in a series of increasingly absurd set pieces. Gilman getting struck by lightning or a roof-scaling finale adds nothing to the movie but raised eyebrows.
The presentation feels lacking as well. The vintage color palates and linear, panning/page-turning transitions are still there, but some of Anderson’s signature flair is missing. Perhaps the biggest absence felt is long time composer/collaborator Mark Mothersbaugh whose unique scores in conjunction with a soundtrack filled with the Stones and The Clash have always defined Anderson’s films. What we get instead is a very sparse score and soundtrack that feels like someone trying to emulate Anderson rather than the real thing. Anderson’s trademark voiceover narration that, in films like The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, served as a guide and framing device, is now sporadic and does little more than lazily distribute plot points. The narrator appears on screen at random intervals to tell us about the impending storm or to inform the search party where Gilman and Hayward are going next. Such rough edges are surprising considering the director’s usual attention to detail.
Moonrise Kingdom is a genuinely funny film with a lot of real emotions propelling it through its shortcomings. This may not be Anderson’s best effort, but it’s certainly better than almost any other film out now.