Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Moonrise Kingdom

I wish I could've watched Wes Anderson's MOONRISE KINGDOM in a carpeted, wood paneled room while it unspooled on a Super 8 projector.  Anderson in fact decided to shoot his latest film in 16mm, giving this set in 1965 story a look and feel as if really made then, appearing like a lost reel retrieved from your uncle's attic. And the movie plays like that same (possibly eccentric) uncle reading a story to your 10 year old self, warmly tucked in bed or perhaps around a campfire.

MOONRISE KINGDOM tells the tale of Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman), a 12 year old misfit who has decided he no longer desires to be a Khaki Scout. His exit from camp sets off a search party led by neurotic scoutmaster Ward (Edward Norton) and a local sad sack policeman named Sharp (Bruce Willis). Meanwhile, when similiarly aged Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward) runs away from the home of her attorney parents (Frances McDormand and Bill Murray), the search parties grow and join forces.

Suzy is an even bigger misanthrope than Sam. She seems a suitable case for treatment even at this early stage of her life. A lovely flashback shows how the youths meet, backstage at a church play where Suzy is dressed like a raven. After much letter correspondence, they agree to meet in the wilds of New Penzance, the island somewhere in New England they both inhabit. Anderson never shows anyone living there besides the Bishops and the Khaki Scouts. Well, there is the Narrator, played by Bob Balaban, who warns of a dangerous hurricane that  will occur during the film's climax. He goes into great meteorologic detail. Late in the film, he even interacts with some of the characters.

This is a colorful movie, in any sense of the word you can figure. The art direction alone could merit a Pinterest page or a display at Anthropologie. I'll bet you can freeze the stills as the camera spins 360s around the Bishops' home and never see every single item.. I've read accounts of Anderson's obsessive attention to detail, right down to the pitch tents - apparently the director found material that would've been used to create them in 1965. Most viewers would not know or care, but I recall Richard Linklater's commentary for DAZED AND CONFUSED as he recounts how one fan recognized that a beer keg spigot was about 3 years anachronistic.

MOONRISE KINGDOM is a warm movie, but not in any immediate, traditional sense. There is always a certain chilliness in Anderson's characters, an inquisitive aloofness that makes them come of as glib. I was reminded of the family in Anderson's ROYAL TENENBAUMS several times, and MOONRISE also has much in common with all of the director's other pics, particularly the family dynamics of FABULOUS MR. FOX and LIFE AQUATIC. These characters are not prone to lenghy literary speeches, but rather staccato witticisms. Everyday mundanities are seen so clearly as to be hilarious.

The initial  viewing of an Anderson film is almost blindsiding in quirk, but later you recall the nuance. MOONRISE KINGDOM is like a fairy tale for older children, or more like a fairy tale in which the characters step out and comment on themselves, are self-aware enough, but don't necessarily verbally comment on their actions. It always feels like Anderson is speaking through them, and that is not a criticism. These are lovely fabrications of character - real behavioral patterns fashioned with the absurd. The eccentricity is virtually unchecked this time (note the continued use of Benjamin Britten compositions on the soundtrack), as if Anderson was allowed to realize the most fanciful of his musings.  You could enjoy MOONRISE on that alone, but I was also quite taken with the emotions of this film, such as they were.

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