Monday, June 25, 2012

How High the Moon


MOONRISE KINGDOM

I am someone who considers himself basically a WASP, and if it weren't for the fact that both my parents are of Mexican descent (one native-born, one naturalized American), I would be one.  As such, one would expect I would be the very audience Wes Anderson believes himself to be the chronicler of: that slightly aloof hyper-intellectual, alienated 1 Percent that is simply too smart for life.  Well, one would be wrong:.

I have long detested Wes Anderson and his films.  I didn't like The Royal Tenebaums (curiously about the only time Anderson has allowed anything close to ethnic diversity in his films), and detested The Darjeeling Limited.  I find them pretentious, repetitive, and his obsession of moving the camera all around a bit nauseating. 

Having said all that, I simply cannot bring myself to say that I hated Moonrise Kingdom.  In fact, despite my long-held view that he is a one-trick pony that has found greater fools to admire him (no offense, Issa Family),  I have to say that Moonrise Kingdom was the most enjoyable of all the Anderson films I've seen.

Here is the gist of the film: it is 1965.  In a summer camp, one Khaki Scout member named Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) has 'resigned' from the scout troop and left, much to the shock and horror of earnest Khaki Scout Troop Leader Randall Ward (Edward Norton).  A search party is quickly organized.  Meanwhile, local islander Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward), has also run off. 

We quickly learn that a year earlier, Sam and Suzy met while his troop was watching a church performance of Noah's Flood and Suzy played the raven (which, if one remembers his Genesis, was the bird that Noah released to search for land, searches, but comes back empty-handed).  After this one meeting, they begin writing to each other and in their loneliness and hyper-intelligence find kindred spirits.  When the troop is on her island, they had agreed prior that they would leave together for a hidden cove.

Now Mr. and Mrs. Bishop (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand), along with Scout Master Ward and Sheriff Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis) continue the mad hunt for our two escapees.  Also aiding in the search is the Khaki Scout Troop of which Sam was once attached to, a group I might add that looks more like well-dressed members of the Lord of the Flies than a group of kids.  Suzy is able to defeat the troop to continue their journey.

Well, Sam and Suzy find the cove and share their love, but are quickly found by all the adults.  Sam, an orphan, is not wanted by his foster parents, and Social Services (Tilda Swinton) contacts the adults to let them know she is on her way to collect him.  The troop now has a change of heart and decides to help our young lovers be reunited.  They collect Suzy and Sam, much to the shock of the adults, especially Scout Master Ward, who is promptly stripped of his leadership for his incompetence of losing his entire troop.

However, the massive storm that we are told was a'comin' allows Ward a moment to show he can be a leader, and Moonrise Kingdom comes full circle, with all our cast again at the St. Jack Church.  Suzy and Sam will jump from the church steeple if they cannot be together, but Captain Sharp comes just in time and agrees to take Sam on, allowing our two kids to continue their romance.

What is surprising about Moonrise Kingdom, at least to me, is that I didn't hate it.  I think it has to do with the fact that this is the first time that Wes Anderson's total commitment to the faux-whimsy of his worldview works.  As is the case with all his films, he will place his characters straight in the middle of the frame and will move the camera to show us the different characters in the same scene rather than cutting from one to another.

Seeing a Wes Anderson film can drive some people mad (I am one of them).  I have never been a fan of how he moves his camera.  Here is an example to the uninitiated: he starts with characters in a particular scene, then will move the camera either to the right or the left (almost always to the right now that I think of it), to see other characters in the same scene, then moves the camera in what I imagine is a long track to yet more characters in the same scene.  Other times if he requires movement (such as when the militaristic Khaki Scout Master inspects his troops), he will move his camera along with the characters walking in the same direction.

In both Tenenbaums and Darjeeling, this thing had me tearing out my hair.  However, in Moonrise I think it worked because this story is told primarily from the children's viewpoint.  Granted, the children in Moonrise Kingdom are miniature versions of Anderson's adults (creatures of frightening self-awareness given to speaking in monotone, clipped patterns with morose worldviews), but for once, the whimsy he always goes for actually adds to the film.

Whiny, hyper-intelligent kids are more tolerable than whiny, hyper-intelligent adults.

The script by Anderson and long-time henchman...I mean, friend and collaborator Roman Coppola is actually an intelligent film, a parody of adult ways when imitated by children.  There is something amusing, even shocking, at how when children (which is what Sam and Suzy are) behave as if they were a good twenty years older than they are, their actions appear foolish, even crazy, while in adults similar actions would not be looked on with horror.

Then again, the idea of twelve-year-olds feeling each other up and talking about erections is still rather shocking, but then again, one has to remember I am a bit of a WASP, unaccustomed to such talk.

If one looks at all the performances, they are done correctly to fit in the the emotionally stilted, verbally reticent way all of Anderson's characters speak.  Gilman and Hayward are excellent as the two thwarted lovers, making their relationship almost endearing.  Norton, despite being 42 years old still can communicate youthful innocence as the earnest but inept Scout Master.  Given how often Bruce Willis is cast as an action star (The Expendables 2, anyone), one forgets he can be a genuine actor, and his lonely-hearts Captain Sharp (who, in one of those ironic turns, is anything but) is a genuinely caring but dim man.

Alexander Desplat's score is a delight, perfectly capturing the whimsy Anderson always goes for but rarely ever captures completely.  Robert D. Yeoman's cinematography and Kasia Walicka-Maimone's costumes also fit perfectly in the motif of the world through the mind of a hyper-intelligent child (one which is grasping deep thoughts while still filtering them through a child's ideas and drawing abilities).

There are some flaws within Moonrise Kingdom.  The biggest is a subplot of Mrs. Bishop and Captain Sharp having an affair.  While this would be the motivating factor for Suzy to see the phoniness of adults (I can't help thinking Moonrise Kingdom is echoing Catcher in the Rye), the affair isn't even a big part of the story and almost appears unnecessarily attached to the film.  Furthermore, it takes away a bit of the empathy one feels for Captain Sharp (as if pouring a child alcohol didn't help things).  Granted, for me some of the actions and thoughts expressed by both adults and children didn't make me laugh as more recoil in shock and horror.

Serving alcohol to minors.  Adults 'marrying' kids.  Killing animals.  Stabbing kids with scissors.  We were not amused.

WASP, remember.

I would say that here is where I part company with the Andersonistas: I didn't laugh at Moonrise Kingdom.  That, from what I understand, was one of the points of the film.  Besides, no Wilson Brother (Owen, Luke, or even Andrew) in a Wes Anderson film?  Blasphemy, I say!    

I'll say this for Moonrise Kingdom: when Anderson commits fully to his vision, there's no holding him. 

There are certain people in film I cannot enjoy.  I'm not a fan of Quentin Tarantino, but I do agree that Inglourious Basterds was a good film.  I think James Newton Howard is one of the worst composers working today, but I found his work in Peter Pan absolutely charming, even beautiful.  The Law of Averages dictates that even the lousiest person involved in show business/the arts has to do at least one thing right (even if Channing Tatum so far has managed to defy the odds).  Following this logic, there had to be ONE, just ONE work by Wes Anderson that didn't make me want to punch him in the face.  Moonrise Kingdom is that one film.

No, I'm not a convert to his offbeat cinema style.  However, I at least found something of his that I wouldn't mind watching again.

Finally, I want to say this: I don't think I look like Jason Schwartzman.  My hair never grows that long, my nose is by no means large, and I am taller (well, maybe an inch or so, but still).  However, maybe if I had a mustache... 

DECISION: B-

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