Thursday, July 26, 2012

Joel's Review of Moonrise Kingdom


joel fishbane

One day, some film class will study Moonrise Kingdom as the perfect representative of Wes Anderson’s oeuvre. Stylish and full of quirk, Anderson’s films feature wildly eccentric worlds that use absurdity as the window into the human condition. The results are usually varied. Style sometimes triumphs story in Anderson’s work and while the worlds are fun to visit, one doesn’t always want to stay for an extended period of time.

Moonrise Kingdom is the case in point. At it’s heart lies the youthful romance between Suzy and Sam (played by newcomers Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman). The romance is honest and engaging, mostly because it succeeds in finding an honesty that escapes similar romances in mainstream films. Suzy and Sam are certainly precocious - a pre-requisite for any young adult in cinema - but they are also feel like real youths rather then part of some Hollywood fable.

Hayward’s Suzy is a “troubled child”, a steely-eyed girl with a love of science fiction books and a tendency to go berserk when provoked. Gilman’s Sam is a nerdy orphan with a talent for not getting along with others. They elope after a torrid epistolary courtship and eventually escape to a deserted beach where they set up camp. It’s not exactly a case of puppy love - sex enters the picture, but it’s neither a destructive or benevolent force. Here, the sex is just as awkward and weird for them as it was for me when I was that age (sorry – was that TMI?)

The first half of the film is focused heavily on Suzy and Sam and these scenes prove to be the film’s strongest scenes. Later the film shifts to include a cast of Hollywood elite – Bill Murray as Suzy’s Dad, Frances McDormand as Mom, Edward Norton as a scout leader and Bruce Willis as an island cop. The adults suffer from a series of dysfunctions but none are ever developed enough to sustain our interest: an affair passes by in the blink of an eye, as does a romance between Norton and the island’s telephone operator (seriously; it’s a case of blink and you’ll miss it).

Here we have the frustrating aspect of Anderson’s films: he creates a large cast of whimsical characters and then often fails to make them a vital part of the narrative. Often it feels as if they’re making cameo appearances from their own movies which are being filmed on a neighbouring lot. The Hollywood heavyweights look amused by their own tongue-in-cheek performances – they’re very much actors in an actor’s playground. They don’t interfere with the narrative, but they don’t quite manage to add anything to it either.

And yet there remains a peculiar charm to Moonrise Kingdom. Hayward and Gilman are so winning as Suzy and Sam that it’s easy to get on their side. We can’t help but root for them as they go through comical lengths to stay together and prove, in their own way, that they know more about love then any of  the adults. In the end I’d say that the film is sort of like a three-legged puppy: something to be adored despite – or because of - its imperfections.

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