Sunday, June 3, 2012

Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson, 2012) -- A-

Small-minded viewers are likely to see Moonrise Kingdom and claim that "a lot happens in this film, and not a lot of it matters," or something to that avail, which has often been the knock on Wes Anderson, a master of finding significance in, what I'll call, "The Order of Idiosyncrasy." In his book Wes Anderson: Why His Movies Matter (shockingly, the only book-length analysis available of the prominent auteur), Mark Browning fails to locate what the title promises, often falling back on weak, unsophisticated arguments of tepid critical reception and his films "failing to find [an] audience" rather than getting to the crux of Anderson's internal logic. Perhaps none of Anderson's films better epitomize that logic than Moonrise Kingdom, in some ways an implicit rebuke to critics who find his work overly "naïve, mannered, pretentious and incomprehensible." Call it his Body Double, a film whose self-awareness is tightly sealed within the care, craft, and composure Anderson (like Brian De Palma) insists his films possess, leaving no room for speculation that anything and everything within (and outside) the frame isn't duly accounted for.

To the question of quality: Anderson's worth lies in his rigorous formal interests, which often speak louder and with more proficiency than his troubled, in-arrested development characters. In this sense, Anderson prizes contrapuntal means - efficiently, smoothly navigating the cinematic spatio-temporal matrix that contains figures of disarray. Moonrise Kingdom actively acknowledges this cinematic split (or it will for perceptive viewers) and, as such, is likely Anderson's best film. Significance resides in simultaneous interests, both textual and formal, but with emphasis on the latter as text - while his critics often get hung up on what he speaks, their arguments often neglect to address how he speaks; because of this, these knock remain unconvincing.

The film's opening is an Anderson tour-de-force, a rigorous spatial introduction to the filmmaker's view of youth, love, and kinesis. Anderson is an action filmmaker - there's always beauty in his movement, whether inter or intraframe. Scout Master Ward's (Edward Norton) inaugural breakfast march gets majestic treatment, the tracking and stopping not just a flourish, but inseparable from the social rigor Anderson and co-scribe Roman Coppola's warm, humanist script wishes to reflect. The economy of storytelling is reflected in one of many "Wes-tages," bursts of affected information that would play fetishistic if Anderson didn't consistently imbue them with his thoroughly genuine and meticulous artistry.

Sam (Jared Gilman) has abandoned his Scout troupe to be with Suzy (Kara Hayward), whose parents (Bill Murray, Frances McDormand) recruit the help of Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis) and, eventually, Social Services (Tilda Swinton) to sort the situation out. Anderson wrings profundity from absurdity, the film's best scene his insistence on not shying-away from his protagonists' youthful sexuality. With Bob Balaban as a direct-speaking Narrator, Anderson's filmic DNA recalls Dusan Makavejev and W.R.: Mysteries of the Organism's Carnivalesque aims, its sexuality tied to psychoanalysis, youth, revolution, death, and documentary. Given Anderson's filmography, especially The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, there is an inextricable coalescence of personal and political, asking through an intricate assemblage of personalities and personifications (The Fantastic Mr. Fox) what constitutes the brief, fleeting moments life offers, before corporeal deterioration no longer allows such bodily expression  (see also Makavejev's Sweet Movie).

Thus, to answer Owen Glieberman and Rex Reed, the critics to whom the above quotes belong, respectively, everything in Anderson's films matter, even if dogmatic, preconceived notions (Reed) prevent certain viewers from recognizing that Wes Anderson is one of the few cinematic Cowboys remaining, and, in many ways, the voice of his generation. Therefore, I will let Andre Gide say it better than I can: "Great authors are admirable in this respect: in every generation they make for disagreement. Through them we become aware of our differences." While true, one might say the cinema of Wes Anderson is more interested in locating our similarities - perhaps an even more admirable venture.


  1. I can't wait to see this film. Too bad the platform for it is taking FOREVER to get to N.C. Very tempted to hop in my car and drive to Atlanta and watch it there.

    I read a terrible article last week that compared Wes Anderson to Tim Burton and accused both filmmakers of "telling the same old story" over and over. They also harped on Burton and Anderson for reusing the same visual style over and over, as if that were a terrible crime.

    I think what the writer failed to realize is that Tim Burton hasn't had a story in nearly a decade. And while Anderson frequently creates narratives about characters who are coping with the selfish actions of their parents, only to realize in varying degrees that they too are selfish people, he's always looking for variations on that theme. And the fact that both of these filmmakers actually have a visual style should be celebrated. If Wes Anderson stops making films that look like Wes Anderson films, then no one would make films that look like them and it would be a terrible loss.

    I've found his career to follow a seasonal pattern, with the youthful summer narrative of Bottle Rocket, the somber fall in Rushmore, winter creeps in for The Royal Tenenbaums and is fully present with The Life Aquatic and The Darjeeling Limited (where Anderson heroes Dignan and Max Fischer segue into the lonely, disappointed middle age men the two romantic heroes were destined to become). Then with Fantastic Mr. Fox, we enter the spring, finding new hope and a focus on youth. I don't want to make assumptions about this next film which I have yet to see, but that seems to also be the case with "Moonrise Kingdom."

  2. Anderson remains perhaps the most underrated filmmaker of the past decade or longer, even though Criterion has given him plenty of veneration by including every film of his in their collection (excluding Fantastic Mr. Fox). He obviously has his fans, but many critics and scholars refuse to take him seriously. Even many who like his films are apologetic, often claiming "they don't ultimately amount to very much." Bullshit. I like your seasonal trend - "Moonrise Kingdom" is a "summer camp" movie, if there ever was one, in the sense of youthful sexuality being recognized and constructed, against the generational toil and blow-back from elders.