Sunday, October 4, 2015

Catching Up With Wes Anderson In His Delightful Moonrise Kingdom!

The Good: Decent performances, Interesting characters, Good direction
The Bad: Simplistic plot, Light on character development
The Basics: I finally take in Moonrise Kingdom, which moved Wes Anderson out of his repetitive slump!

Over the years, I have inadvertently become a fan of the works of a couple of different writer/directors. Unlike the most literal fans ("fanatics"), I have retained the ability to be discriminatory about the works of even my favorite writer/directors. So, I do not universally praise the works of Terry Gilliam, P.T. Anderson or The Wachowski Siblings. Each has had films that are brilliant and some that are downright unwatchable. Because I started my appreciation of the works of Wes Anderson with The Royal Tenenbaums (reviewed here!), I hardly suspected he would become one of my favorite writer/directors. The Royal Tenenbaums is brilliant, but his follow-ups The Life Acquatic With Steve Zissou (reviewed here!) and The Darjeeling Limited (reviewed here!) were essentially rehashings of that film in mood and cast (and, even, direction).

With his latest film reinvigorating my love of his works, I have been eagerly going back to some of the Wes Anderson films I missed after I more or less gave up on him. After watching Moonrise Kingdom, I wish I had gone back sooner! Moonrise Kingdom is almost everything one has come to love and expect from a Wes Anderson film. The movie is packed with awkward moments, somewhat off-putting characters, actors being used in quirky ways and (to a lesser extent) impressive direction with an emphasis on the use of color. Moonrise Kingdom might not have the familiar sense of visual style one expects from a Wes Anderson film - after the opening credits sequence that is - but narratively, it is very much a typical Wes Anderson film . . . without feeling like the writer/director is simply rehashing his prior works.

In the summer of 1965, on the New England island of New Penzance is days away from being hit by a significant storm, the residents are shocked by two young people running away. The New Penzance Khaki Scout camp is put in an uproar when the least-liked camper, orphan Sam, abruptly resigns from the Scouts and runs off. Miles away, Suzy Bishop abandons her lawyer parents and three younger brothers to meet Sam and run away with him.

After an explanation of how Sam and Suzy met the year prior at the Island's church play and they became pen pals, the film follows the story of where the two children run off to and the attempts by both the Khaki Scouts and the island police to recover the children. Sam is pursued by his fellow Khaki Scouts, Scout Master Ward (who is dismayed when Sam's foster family does not want him back) and Captain Sharp, the dim police officer who has a lingering affection for Mrs. Bishop. Mr. and Mrs. Bishop are pretty much estranged and not really in love - their pillow talk is about their respective caseloads - have Sharp hunting their Suzy. Sam and Suzy defend themselves from the Khaki Scout troop and make it to an inlet where they spend a romantic night before they are captured the next morning. But when one of the Khaki Scouts realizes they troop has been cruel to Sam without cause, the kids decide to spring the young lovers and give them a chance at happiness.

Moonrise Kingdom has, from its outset, the potential to be virtually any kind of movie. The title and opening set the film up for a potential cinematic reworking of Bridge To Terabithia. The longer the film went on, the more I had hopes that the movie would be about the two kids and their falling in love and creating their own little paradise at the inlet. That hope, however, got quickly shattered with the capture of Suzy and Sam and the emphasis on keeping Moonrise Kingdom a classic chase story.

Because of its emphasis on plot and the reversals that naturally come from having a chase story, the characters in Moonrise Kingdom hardly grow or develop. Instead, Sam and Suzy grow to accept one another and share an intriguing first love that is based a lot on simply accepting the other for who they are. But most of their time is spent simply running and having four or five scenes where they simply talk. Many of those scenes are not about sharing common interests, they are about fleshing out each character. The chase gives Sam and Suzy shared conflict, but it does little to actually bond them more (they are about as affectionate with one another at the outset as they are at the end).

As always, Wes Anderson does an exceptional job with the film's casting of a decent blend of established actors and some new talents. Sam is played by Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward erupts on screen as Suzy, with a stare that could melt glass. Beyond that, one is almost surprised Wes Anderson films require a casting manager; Anderson tends to use several actors in virtually all of his works and Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, and Jason Schwartzman all make appearances in Moonrise Kingdom. Bruce Willis is utilized well in Moonrise Kingdom as Captain Sharp. Given how Willis can play calculating and able exceptionally well, watching him as a character who is a virtual moron is a feat!

The film is ruled by Gilman and Hayward and while their characters are hardly connected by deep and binding character traits, the performers have great, if awkward, on-screen chemistry! Gilman and Hayward have great stares and their characters share intensity that they play incredibly well.

But, Moonrise Kingdom sticks with a chase caper more than a heartfelt exploration of young love and that diminishes the magic of the film. While Wes Anderson does an excellent job of making an engaging story, the viewer is left feeling like the movie had so much more potential than was executed.

For other works with Frances McDormand, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Transformers: Dark Of The Moon
Burn After Reading
Friends With Money
Aeon Flux
Something's Gotta Give
City By The Sea
Almost Famous
Wonder Boys
Miller’s Crossing


For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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