Monday, July 11, 2016

Surveying the Kingdom

Wes Anderson is one of those directors that inspires almost cult-like devotion in many film buffs. I'm certainly not in that cult, having seen only a handful of his movies -- not "hating" any of them, but not quite loving them either. Still, I'm willing to give another Anderson film a shot every now and then. Most recently, that was Moonrise Kingdom.

Crafted in Wes Anderson's signature style (which I'd categorize as "conspicuously quirky"), Moonrise Kingdom is a love story at its core. But the couple is a pair of pubescent runaways, both possessed of oddly mature personalities more "adult" than anyone else in the movie.

To whatever degree you'd consider Rushmore "realistic," this is not that kind of Wes Anderson movie. Moonrise Kingdom hews much closer to The Grand Budapest Hotel, an intentionally broad story that's as close to self-aware as you can get without crossing that line. Environments in the movie often look like miniatures until characters start interacting with them. Conversations are often filmed not in conventional "two shots," but in head-on alternating cuts that have people talking straight into the camera. Nearly everything is center framed.

The acting style is similarly off-kilter. I found it evocative of movies like Airplane! and The Naked Gun -- very earnest and serious even in situations that are objectively ridiculous. (Though I wouldn't say the movie is as "joke-centric.") It's interesting to see how different actors work within this style. Bruce Willis has played the Everyman throughout his career, and does so here without irony. Edward Norton is a notorious Method actor, leaving one to wonder how he ever reconciled that thirst for realism with such an unrealistic character. Wes Anderson favorite Bill Murray seems to be subtly winking to the audience, too cool for it all, through the entire movie. And Tilda Swinton uses the lack of realism to do what she does best: vanish into a bizarre role. The whole thing turns on the performances of the two young leads; Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward perfectly walk the line between naivete and world-weariness that this style demands, helping the whole thing feel like a light fairy tale.

But light is ultimately what the movie is, despite the pronounced auteur's touch. I enjoyed it overall, though I did sometimes find myself thinking that the movie had gone quirky for quirky's sake, extolling eccentricity over story or character. I give Moonrise Kingdom a B-. It was good enough that I will try another Wes Anderson film at some point, though it certainly didn't induct me into the cult.

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