Brief Film Synopsis: Wes Anderson returns from stop motion animation with Moonrise Kingdom, a 90 minute tale of young love between two capricious twelve year olds. The setting is 1965 coastal New England where the police, a group of boy scouts and disillusioned parents scammer to thwart the young lovers’ reunion. It’s innocent ennui versus adulthood ennui shot in typical Wes Anderson prim fashion.
Moonrise Kingdom is an intriguing film, if not the most intriguing film of 2012. For, Moonrise Kingdom raises the biggest critical acclaim question of them all, namely: What exactly makes a film praiseworthy? Why does one movie garner such acclaim over another?
Considering this is a review of Wes Anderson’s latest, my question is: Why are we even celebrating Moonrise Kingdom? That is, what features of the story or its filmmaking or production call for the exceptional attention of award nominations and achievements?
Moonrise Kingdom was awarded Best Picture by the Gotham Awards. It’s been nominated for Best Picture, Musical or Comedy by the Golden Globes (but so was 2010’s The Tourist). But the Cannes Film Festival, the Independent Spirit Awards and the American Film Institute Awards have all recognized Moonrise Kingdom’s “achievements”. Not to mention the countless critics’ Best Of 2012 compilations listing Moonrise Kingdom. The critical consensus on Moonrise Kingdom: it’s one of the best films of 2012.
Frankly, the consensus on Moonrise Kingdom baffles me. The obsequiousness of the reviews of the film alienates me: who are these people who enjoyed Moonrise Kingdom so much that they consider it among the best of 2012? I mean, I guess I know who they are. They’re David Germain of the Associated Press and Manohla Dargis of the New York Times, and my friends. But why does Moonrise Kingdom receive such acclaim?
I’m not curious about what simply makes Moonrise Kingdom a decent i.e. (not terrible) film. I’m curious about what makes Moonrise Kingdom one of the best films of 2012, i.e. not 2002.
In the context of sheer, straightforward 90 minute entertainment, in the vein of an Adam Sandler comedy filling the void, or three episodes of Friends, Moonrise Kingdom is satisfactory. The narrative moves along swiftly and the themes of young love, teenage angst and dead dogs are relatable as Remember When/growing up issues. But this time such themes are shared in Wes Anderson’s prim, sepia drenched lens. And, per usual, Anderson’s twee kingdom is inhabited by Hollywood’s A list. This round, Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand, Bill Murray and Tilda Swinton dress up for Wes Anderson playtime. The five are all game for Margot Tenenbaum costume, however, Tilda Swinton’s small role of ‘Social Services’ is funnest to watch. Swinton seems to get that it’s Wes Anderson Playtime and she exaggerates her mannerisms according to the Guidebook of Twee and Whimsy. Watch how she hangs up a phone in this movie. She’s having fun.
All that being said, I didn’t hate Moonrise Kingdom. I even enjoyed it more than Anderson’s last live-action feature, The Darjeeling Limited. Which still, however, isn’t saying much.
Wes Anderson shoots Moonrise Kingdom in 50 shades of yellow. Record players, corncob pipes, “secret power” binoculars and other novelties of nostalgia are meticulously placed as part of Wes’s idiosyncratic cinematography. Youth and adulthood’s ennui charmingly hums along to the hip tunes of Françoise Hardy on sets designed by birds on Etsy.
Wes Anderson has a distinctive cinematic style, which, as evident in Moonrise Kingdom, he’s perfected to the point of spot on parody. (See Conan O’ Brian’s audition tape for Star Wars à la Wes Anderson.) The precocious preciousness of Anderson’s narratives shot through the lens of instagram preppiness is what’s helped Wes Anderson stand out as an American filmmaker. Wes Anderson has a particular formula in making Wes Anderson productions (even his short films are packed with said formula, see Hotel Chevalier).
In other words, Wes Anderson movies are familiar. We know what we’re in for when watching a film directed by Wes Anderson.
Which is why I’d love to see Wes Anderson direct a horror film. You can keep the Robert Yeoman cinematography and trinkets of nostalgia, Wes. But the arousal from the idea of Wes Anderson meddling with the film genre of horror suggests the need for Anderson to branch out as a filmmaker. 2012 saw Ang Lee experimenting with performance capture technology and Paul Thomas Anderson filming with rare 65mm film. And the creativity of their filmmaking wowed critics and audiences. But so has Wes Anderson being Wes Anderson. I don’t get it.
Entertainment Weekly’s Owen Gleiberman opens his film review of Moonrise Kingdom with the following: “It’s been nearly 15 years since Rushmore, but Wes Anderson hasn’t altered his style one iota.” Accordingly, Wes Anderson Today doing Wes Anderson 15 Years Ago is not an exciting filmmaker to watch. And there is something confused about arming artists with accolades for redundancy.
The appeal for Academy voters: Moonrise Kingdom is looking at a Best Original Screenplay nod, especially considering that Wes Anderson is no stranger to the Academy. 2001 saw a Best Original Screenplay nomination for The Royal Tenenbaums. And his last feature, 2009’s The Fantastic Mr. Fox, won an Oscar for Best Animated Feature. Much of the subject matter of 2012’s Oscar frontrunners (Lincoln, Zero Dark Thirty, Les Miserables) concern heavy issues shown with a realist’s eye. Moonrise Kingdom’s whimsy is a break from the aforementioned heavy hitters. By nominating Moonrise Kingdom, Academy voters show their more humorous side while sticking with the familiar face of Wes Anderson.
Chani envisions a Hollywood where Daniel Day-Lewis or Michael Fassbender star as Ludwig Wittgenstein in a film based on Ray Monk’s biography, The Duty of Genius. Paul Thomas Anderson directs. Her Hollywood also casts Ezra Miller in Søren Kierkegaard’s Diary of a Seducer. Anne Hathaway stars in Gaspar Noé’s next production. HBO debuts a travel show starring Joaquin Phoenix as Freddie Quell and Tommy Wiseau as Tommy Wiseau. And Michael Haneke directs a sequel to The Seventh Continent. In 3D.
Her deepest thoughts are found at symposiumsays.com and you can follow her on twitter @RigidDesignator