Wes Anderson is definitely one of the most visually accomplished filmmakers of our time, but I can’t help be a little disappointed in Moonrise Kingdom. It’s not that I don’t like the film, well, eh, okay, I sorta don’t like the film. It’s hard to explain why, but I’ll try my best.
As I just stated, Wes Anderson is incredibly talented at creating a visual landscape in each of his films. Stylistically, he is probably one of the most distinguished directors since Jacques Tati, and I would also place him with Tati, Quentin Tarantino, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Terry Gilliam, Tim Burton, and others in a group of directors whose films live within their own universe. By this I mean not necessarily that each film is its own distinctive universe, but that the director’s entire body of work exists in one singular and original cinematic galaxy. Tati, Tarantino, and Anderson are even further developed in that their films exist within a distinctive verbal universe as well, as their characters speak in tones and patterns that in most cases give away the director’s identity to the viewer. I commend Wes Anderson on creating a unique visual style; however, I feel he often condemns himself to repetition. Each of his films seem to repeat and liberally borrow shots and concepts from the others, which cause them to all fade into a day-glo blur. This isn’t saying I don’t like his work, but I find that too often, as in the case of Moonrise Kingdom, he places his obsession with mise-en-scène over the film’s emotional content and substance.
This particularly manifests itself in Moonrise Kingdom, as the film is overflowing with detail and nostalgic flourishes that seem to vomit themselves off the screen. Boy Scouts and the 1960s are a perfect subject for Anderson because both seem to have such a heavy fetish for uniforms and are also themselves wrapped in nostalgic feelings. The film perfectly explains everything I despise about Scouting, as being a Boy Scout myself I am unfortunately too familiar with the sweaty uniforms and the lunatic archers. Wes Anderson is a visual genius, but he lets that genius get in the way of the film’s depth.
However, my main issue with Moonrise Kingdom is probably more with myself than with the actual movie. I can’t seem to get over the fact that this is the kind of film I would have loved a few years ago. The Nathan of a few years ago, the Nathan who thought he was so intelligent and rebellious and hipster, the Nathan who though he was deep just because he had seen a few brief minutes of Koyaanisqatsi, would have eaten this film up; he would have thought it was “indie” or “artsy” or “awesome sauce.” Now I don’t want to bore you with self-criticism, but I feel like this film was made for the Nathans of a few years ago, people who think they’re artistic and smart but really have a lot left to learn. I try not to dislike a work of art because of the fans, but with this it’s just too hard, particularly because it is so tied to my own past. I thought I was “hipster,” and maybe mentally I was that stereotypical state of mainstream-hating “hipster,” and this film feels made for those people, not the actual hipsters, but the people who think they’re hipsters.
Also, for some reason, it just gives me a bad vibe. I don’t know why. After seeing Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are (a film which, by the way, I cried while seeing and loved during this aforementioned “hipster” phase), I remember my sister told me it gave her a weird vibe, and I imagine this is a pretty similar feeling. These kids may be cute or dress well, but there is something about them that disturbs me, I don’t know why. I know they’re supposed to be troubled children, but they give me the weird vibe I get when I see people or things that are supposed to be “hipster.” I should probably stop using that word, it’s a lazy and uneducated insult and is also a dangerous one to throw around. I’m not someone who ever dislikes something because it feels “hipster,” but unfortunately, in this case, I am. Probably because I know I would have liked it at some point in my life.
The film seems too Anderson-y, almost, as if he has been relegated to making parodies of his own movies, because the speech and the characters and the visuals are distinctly him, but exaggerated and almost on cocaine. And I think it’s the combination of verging-on-self-parody and my own past that make it difficult for me to swallow. There are plenty of things I love about it: the music is great and Edward Norton and Bill Murray give good performances as always. But there’s something unidentifiable element I can’t get past, some emotion I can’t quite put my finger on, that makes it hard for me to enjoy, even though I do like it in some ways. I feel like a lot of people misinterpreted this film as a cute movie, but it’s really not. It’s adorably terrifying.
Moonrise Kingdom is directed by Wes Anderson (The Royal Tenenbaums, The Fantastic Mr. Fox), starring Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Jason Schwartzman, and Bob Balaban. 94 minutes long. Rated PG-13.