People like Wes Anderson. All his works have a certain flavor, a certain Wes Anderson-ness to them. And people tend to like said Wes Anderson-ness, offering him and his films numerous awards and accolades. It is then perhaps no surprise that his latest film, Moonrise Kingdom, currently has a “94% fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with 187 critics writing positive reviews, and only 12 writing negative ones.
I therefore have no one but myself to blame when I say that I find Moonrise Kingdom to be more of the same, stilted, off-kilter but-not-in-a-funny-way-despite-what-everyone-else-thinks films that Wes Anderson makes. I knew what to expect going in, I watched it anyway, and was as disappointed as I generally am with his movies. I keep going back to them in order to see if I’ve changed or they’ve changed or something else has occurred to allow me to see the genius which everyone else proclaims, but unfortunately no such shift has yet taken place. I want to like his movies, I just kind seem to find a way to make that happen.
Set in the mid-1960s, Moonrise Kingdom stars Jared Gilman as Sam, an orphaned Khaki Scout (think Boy Scout) who has recently resigned his membership in the group and Kara Hayward as Suzy, the troubled daughter of Walt Bishop (Bill Murray) and Laura Bishop (Frances McDormand). Now, we know that Sam and Suzy are troubled kids because everyone in the film tells us that Sam and Suzy are troubled kids. This being a Wes Anderson movie, every single person in the film acts in ways that are either truly disturbing or generally odd, so the only possible way for the audience to know who is odd but really normal and who is odd and really odd is to have other characters inform us. For me, that doesn’t work.
Another issue I find with the film is the generally deadpan delivery everyone gives. With few exceptions, there is no emotion in anyone’s tone, merely in their words (someone who is in love will simply state “I am in love” in the same tone they would say “I put on my shoes this morning” or “My cereal has gone soggy”). I won’t say that the acting is bad because it is, I believe, exactly what Anderson intends for it to be, it just isn’t something I find engaging.
Beyond that, this story, which follows the blossoming love between Sam and Suzy as they run away from family and camp, offers me little else which I can enjoy. There is the police captain, Sharp (Bruce Willis), who tells us that he’s dumb, which one assumes is the case because he says it and his name is sharp, but he acts just as foolishly/intelligently (take your pick) as everyone else in the film. There is Ed Norton as the Scout Master who shows more emotion than anyone else (and whom I therefore assume has failed Wes Anderson just a little), but whom we never really get to see struggle with his failure. And, there is Bob Balaban who acts as a goofy narrator, offering us insights we don’t need and warnings about that which is to come that only serve to make the potentially exciting that much more mundane.
Moonrise Kingdom, as one would expect, is absolutely beautiful to look at. The Blu-ray release seems to perfectly convey the vision. The colors are crisp and clear, textures on outfits are evident, and Suzy’s make-up really pops. The New England island setting here is truly beautiful and it comes across in every scene on the release. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track, too, seems fully realized. Every sound effect and its placement in the field feels considered, and the environment, doesn’t quite feel real, but does seem alive. Everything is crisp and clear (save a record being played which is clearly not supposed to be crisp), and just so.
The biggest disappointment may be what’s included as bonus features on the release, which are very little. It does have a DVD as well as iTunes and Ultraviolet copies. There are also a set of featurettes which appear to have been produced prior to the film’s release as a part of the advertising campaign. There are brief looks at some of the actors and sets and some interviews – none of it is terribly informative, and with someone like Anderson who has such a clear vision, it would be beneficial to have a greater opportunity to hear his thought processes.
Please, don’t misunderstand me or this review, Wes Anderson is an artist with a vision. Moonrise Kingdom fits into the universe of Wes Anderson films perfectly. It is a tale of dysfunctional families; it has the same look, feel, and acting; and it has the same meticulous attention to detail one associates with Anderson’s work. If you have seen more than one of his other movies (one not really being enough to judge), you know exactly what to expect and precisely whether or not you’ll enjoy Mooonrise Kingdom. Watching the film, I appreciate the artistry, the vision, and the result, but as with his other works, the film fails to speak to me in any way.