Sunday, June 17, 2012

Moonrise Kingdom ★★★★

Wes Anderson's Beautifully Told Story About Young Love In His Imagined World

Written by Matt Giles
Edited by Erin Accomando

The auteur theory states that the director of a film is the primary creative force behind the scenes. Every film made by a particular director further reflects that director's own personality and style. This theory has long been debated and studied, but no matter which side of the argument you fall on, it's hard to disagree that Moonrise Kingdom, the latest film from director Wes Anderson, is anything but a look into the beautiful imagination (Being John Malkovich style) of Anderson himself.

I'll admit that as of this writing, I have only seen three of Anderson's films (I won't say which) and of those three, Moonrise Kingdom feels like the film Anderson was meant to make and maybe the one he's been striving to make since his career began. It doesn't feel like style without substance, nor does it feel autobiographical; rather, it's the perfect marriage of story and storyteller. In a recent interview on Fresh Air from NPR, Anderson said that his previous films had no justification for having items like a record player on screen, other than the fact that Anderson likes how they look on camera. Moonrise Kingdom, however, is set in 1965 and thus allows Anderson to place said items in the frame without having to feel guilty about it. It's in that sense that his other films feel like practice for this one; some may have gotten more elements right than others, but from what I've read and from the one's I have seen, they seemed like the struggles of a director trying to hit that perfect blend of style and story. Moonrise Kingdom is his major achievement.

The film's central focus is a pair of star-crossed lovers, Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward),  two twelve-year-olds who have decided to run away (Sam because of being passed around from foster home to foster home, Suzy because of her home life, which is anything but perfect) despite having nowhere but the fictional island they live on (called New Penzance) to go. They decide to create their own paradise where no adults can find them and they can live happily ever after, as the outcast "troubled children" that they are. It's in the portrayal of this young love, and virtually everything else down to the font in the credits, that we see Anderson's persona truly reflected.

These are two children who long for adulthood and want to be taken seriously. The love and admiration they share for one another feels like more of a bond of common isolation than the traditional love we're used to seeing onscreen. Because of that, some criticisms I've heard - and partially agree with - are directed at Gilman and Hayward for their lack of understanding Anderson's style of dialogue and their inability to make the love they share believable. While this is a fair criticism, I feel that it's based on judging Moonrise Kingdom as a typical love story, rather than a fable straight out of Anderson's head. Looking at the romance as one more signature trait of Anderson's auteurism, it becomes clear that the love these two twelve-year-olds share is the kind of love that Anderson himself believes in, which may not be for everyone. I happen to be one of the critics completely swept away by it and thus view it as one of the best elements in Anderson's masterpiece.

The other story in the film involves the adults looking for the missing children. There are Suzy's parents, played by seasoned Anderson veteran Bill Murray and Anderson-newcomer Frances McDormand, two attorneys whose love for one another seems to have faded years ago; Sam's "Khaki Scout" leader played perfectly by Edward Norton (he strikes just the right amount of goofiness and sentimentality); Sam's fellow Khaki Scouts themselves, who quite comically have their own ideas about how to retrieve Sam; and most unexpectedly, but completely welcome in an unconventional role, Bruce Willis as the island's only police officer, Captain Sharp, (with whom McDormand's character is having an affair). While these characters are all searching for the children, we're warned of a looming hurricane and given background on New Penzance (for instance, there are no paved roads on the island) by a narrator, played humorously by Bob Balaban, sporting the signature Steve Zissou hat and delivering every line of dialogue with just the right amount of deadpan.

It's evident that the love between Sam and Suzy, the adult characters, the color palette of the island itself, and the necessary exposition explained by a narrator are all ways in which Anderson must view the world, or at least the way he saw the world when he was twelve-years-old. While many elements of the story echo what may have happened to Anderson as a boy, the film feels like a genuine creation; an imagined representation of what childhood was like for Anderson, rather than a telling of his tale. It's for that reason and many others that Moonrise Kingdom hits the emotional chord it does and is, to date,  Wes Anderson's pièce de résistance.

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