Monday Movies Hopes the Roof Flies Off and We Get Sucked into Space

I surprised myself, a few weeks ago, to realize that I was nothing but excited to see Moonrise Kingdom. After The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, which I liked less and less the more I sat with it, I became suspicious of Anderson, suspicious enough to skip out on The Darjeeling Express.

It would be easy to look around and generalize from whole neighborhoods of making that all poetry is a poetry of childhood. You could sell writing seminars on Molokai organized around this principle. You could get some halfway good art. It isn’t true, but Wes Anderson is in no small part responsible for making it believable.

Moonrise Kingdom

Once again, Anderson (co-writing with Roman Coppola) brings us into a world of familial insufficiency. Suzy is mod before her time in heavy turquoise eyeshadow, teetering on the precipice of pubescence. The music that introduces her heightens this — it’s a Benjamin Britten opera, played on a record to introduce art music to children. It’s not immediately clear what’s wrong with her, but she’s not quite at home with her young brothers or her big house, and she’s forever staring outwards through a pair of binoculars.

Sam Shakusky, on the other hand, is missing altogether. He’s gone rogue from the Khaki Scouts, a idyll of fussy 50’s masculinity. As his beleaguered scout master (Ed Norton) enlists the help of the local police (Bruce Willis), we learn that Sam is a full-blown orphan, quickly running out of foster parents.

Soon Suzy will be missing, too, fled the coop to join Sam, her love of a year in epistolary conspiracy. Sam draws on every bit of his scouting knowledge to escort Suzy across the New England island where she lives and he attends camp in search of a spot of beach they can call their own. The lives of the responsible adults–the scout master, the police, Suzy’s parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) churn like the seawater in the approaching storm as they try to find them.

While their escapade earns a few Badlands references, this is really Anderson in high Melendez/Schulz mode. (Anderson told critic Matt Zoller Seitz that he and Owen Wilson “conceived Rushmore hero Max Fischer as Charlie Brown plus Snoopy” — Seitz’s five-part series on Anderson’s influences is worth watching in its entirety.) While halfway to second base is far more sex than Charlie Brown ever knew, Sam and Suzy’s seriousness is straight out of the Peanuts comics.

There’s nothing pure about Sam and Suzy’s hearts–their rages drive them to bloody violence, and though there’s a stylized 50’s gee-whiz Leave It To Beaver quality about the Khaki Scouts, they feel as much at home in a mental hygiene warning filmstrip as in an anodyne TV show. Anderson doesn’t present an idealized version of childhood so much as a heroic one.

Moonrise Kingdom is wholly enchanting. It isn’t shallow, but it is simpler than Anderson’s previous movies, and it stays that way by never really entangling generations the way Rushmore and The Life Aquatic did. Howard Blume and Max Fischer’s battle royale was a lover’s rivalry and a surrogate-parricide. In The Life Aquatic, Owen Wilson’s Ned was too similar to his father Zissou, and their miseries amplified each other’s, dragging the movie ever lower in a vicious circle of melancholy.

Here, the heroic world of children is sealed off from the mundane world of adults. Childhood is a stage, and disappointment exists in the wings, but the play is too exciting to notice the disappointments until the play is over.

As in many things Wes Anderson, the peripheral delights are exquisite. Ed Norton’s scoutmaster plays out an entire redemption saga with Harvey Keitel as his foil. Bob Balaban is a Greek chorus with a weather balloon and a good knowledge of tribal history. Tilda Swinton plays a whirlwind force of institutional authority in an indigo cape that sits on her like a constructivist monument. Murray and McDormand’s marriage is a fully realized nest of sorrows. And there are gorgeous bird costumes that go with the Britten opera, Noye’s Fludde.

4 thoughts on “Monday Movies Hopes the Roof Flies Off and We Get Sucked into Space

  1. We watched Certified Copy, and The Girlfriend hypothesized about halfway through that they were acting out all the various phases of a relationship — for instance, the woman in the coffee shop says he’s acting like he’s still courting her, etc. I went back to your commentary on it and see that you broached the possibility of the relationship as a “copy without an original.” It does have an original, though — relationships in general. They create some background facts specific to him (he works in Rome, etc.), but by and large, I thought it was much like when The Girlfriend and I mime generic fights (normally I end it by declaring “oh, so now it’s my fault!” in a total non sequitur). It felt like an elaborate improv performance, where the writer was being put to the test to see if he could care about a relationship that he knows is a copy as much as he’d care about an original (and by extension, whether the audience can). Anyway, I liked it a lot more than you seemed to.

  2. I didn’t dislike it, I just didn’t get it very well. I love The Girlfriend’s hypothesis and I think it holds up — I think if I’d been able to latch onto an idea of the game I would have had a much better time. As it was I found it pleasant but mystifying, and was bothered by the idea that it seemed like it was going for something much more specific than “pleasant but mystifying.”

    Shorter: I didn’t dislike it, it disliked me. Which of his movies have you seen now?

  3. There was definitely a sensation of “Oh, of course!” when The Girlfriend voiced her hypothesis. Without it, I think I would’ve spent the whole movie scouring for clues about whether the author was really the father, etc.

    At this point, I’ve seen Taste of Cherry, Close-Up, and Ten. I’m intrigued by the new Japanese film he made that the international critical community booed at Cannes, but I’m not sure how much time I want to spend digging through the archive at this point.

  4. Thanks for the review of Moonrise Kingdom. I had similar problems with Life Aquatic, really didn’t like Darjeeling Limited, and was kind of not sure if I should even bother with this latest Anderson joint.

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