Sunday, July 01, 2012

Wes Anderson's MOONRISE KINGDOM Is Twee-rific

MOONRISE KINGDOM (Dir. Wes Anderson, 2012)

There are times during this film, Wes Anderson’s seventh as director, that I felt like I was paging through an old slightly faded and yellowed picture book of Rhode Island landscapes and settings.

The world that Anderson creates here will be familiar in its tone and eccentricity to those who’ve seen his previous movies, but his usual hallmarks - actors positioned in dead center frame, extreme shots of handwriting on notebook paper, a bold primary color scheme, kids who are too smart for their own good, and very formal dialogue - all come together much more naturally than before.

As whimsically titled as it is executed, MOONRISE KINGDOM concerns Jared Gillman and Kara Hayward, as a couple of kids in the summer of 1965 who don’t fit in their respective lives - he in his “Khaki” Scout troup; she in her dysfunctional family. They run off together across the fictitious island of New Penzance, off the coast of New England, in the days before a storm of “historic proportions” hits (as Bob Balaban, our onscreen narrator tells us).

This triggers the Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton), the local police Captain (Bruce Willis), and the girl’s lawyer parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand), to form a search party to find the missing children.

Although he was the most unpopular scout in his troup, Gillman has mad camping skills so the kids are able to survive just fine in the woods. Hayward helps pass the time reading aloud from a stack of unreturned library books (all fictitious children’s titles with authentic period aesthetics).

The pair reach a secluded cove protected by steep cliffs where they dance on the beach to Françoise Hardy’s “Le Temps de l’Amour” on a battery-powered record player. They kiss and fall in love, but the search party soon swoops in to separate them.

Meanwhile there is a palpable chill in the air around Murray and McDormand as she is having an affair with Willis. There’s no real time to flesh this out so it’s on a back burner as Tilda Swinton as Social Services (that’s actually how she’s credited) shows up to take away Gillman and place him in a “juvenile refuge.” 

Gillman’s scout troup decides to help the love-smitten kids escape again, and with the help of Anderson regular Jason Scwartzman, as a Khaki scout leader, a makeshift marriage ceremony goes down. Then there’s that pesky violent storm to deal with.

Sure there’s a preciousness to the precision that some may find pretentious, and maybe it is a bit. But it’s touching how faithful Anderson is to that little inner kid of his.

We don’t learn much about these people as the characterizations don’t go very deep, and some details seem a bit too quirky (McDormand using a megaphone to order around her family - and I know that comes from co-screenwriter Roman Coppola’s real life), but the overriding sweetness and colorful aura casts too big a spell for that to matter.

Despite that it's set in the mid '60s, there surprisingly isn't any British invasion pop present. Apart from the Françoise Hardy tune and some Hank Williams, classical music dominates the soundtrack by way of a 7 part suite by noted composerAlexandre Desplat, some apt Leonard Bernsteinselections, and Benjamin Britten's “The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra.”

Of Anderson’s films, I was most reminded of THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS in such elements as the yellow tent aesthetics, Murray’s wife having an affair, a dog getting accidentally killed, and the ancient turntable, among some other more subtle similarities. Maybe it’s true that every film maker is essentially making the same movie over and over until they get it right.

Well, Anderson’s MOONRISE KINGDOM is a twee-rific try.

More later...

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