moonrise kingdom and wes anderson the one trick pony?
Plenty of folks make not-Wes Anderson movies, so I’m just gonna let Wes Anderson keep making Wes Anderson movies. Because: he’s great at it.
From Bottle Rocket right up to his most recent Moonrise Kingdom, Wes Anderson has been criticized for his particular style, not because it’s bad or thoughtless, but rather because he has a very particular style. I’m not going to argue that fact, with the exception of the Fantastic Mr. Fox, you could easily confuse any moment of one movie for any of his movies. Only the actors, and not always, seem to change.
The worlds of his films are ones of a perpetual lack of 21st century technology, as if the digital age drove by in a red sports car and never stopped. Every film contains a scene of rock n’ roll slow motion, a montage, and almost always at least one cross-section of a set. The films are brightly colored and everything is lit as if it were a stage play.
Naturalistic is not a word that comes to mind when I think of Wes Anderson, he’s planned everything out right down to the way a character holds an object it seems. His writing is esoteric, in the hands of any other director or in any other world for that matter, it would seem uncomfortably awkward. In short Anderson has spent a career creating nostalgic films, recreating places and memories from his past and applying them to stories he’s writing today.
I’ve always found it unfair to discredit Wes Anderson as a filmmaker on the merit of all his films having a similar feel. Most people accept the unwatchable Baz Luhrmann films as his particular style, Tim Burton is lauded for his artistic genius despite a similar style in all his films, and Martin Scorsese apparently shits a golden egg every time he turns on a camera. I’ve always thought it was unfair to discredit Anderson’s work purely on his esthetic choices.
Despite being a big fan of his work I often have a difficult time jazzing myself up for his films, the same goes for Quentin Tarantino. I always think I’m not going to like the film and so I don’t see it in the theater, then I hear an interview on Fresh Air or some such place, I watch the movie and love it. I wasn’t sure if I was going to get out to the theater to see Moonrise Kingdom, but with so many friends speaking so highly of it I decided I had to get out and see it before it left theaters.
So… as a hardcore Rushmore fan I didn’t think that Anderson would ever make a film that could impress me more than that (Fantastic Mr. Fox not included). It’s been four days since I saw Moonrise Kingdom and I think he might have done it.
First of all, this felt very different from his other films (excluding Fantastic Mr. Fox, in fact I’ve said it enough. I dearly love that movie but I’m excluding it from all talking points because it was animated). On the surface yes, it is very similar, there’s a montage, a scene in slow motion, a cross section, bright colors, etc. but it was very different.
The storyline. His previous films were not exactly story driven, and the few that were still didn’t give you a clear idea of what the character specifically wanted. Those films revolve around the characters discovery of what they really want in life. Here the story couldn’t be more simple, twelve year olds Sam and Suzy want to be together, and they will do so at any cost. It’s a love story, pure, innocent, and completely genuine. I can’t remember the last time I saw any film portray love as sincere as Anderson does here.
We follow our lovers from the beginning of the film all the way through to the end. There are obstacles they must overcome that are external, not the internal self inflicted struggles Anderson’s characters often face. The story is lean and it seems as if all the excess fat was removed in the final cut, as everything relates to our characters, either how they got where they got or how they will get where they are going.
The casting of the children could have been a disaster but Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward) are spot on. Though an awkward pair in appearance, emotionally they work perfectly together. The scenes in the little inlet (the Moonrise Kingdom) could have been performed by adults, the fact that it was children was all the more magical. There is never a wink at the audience suggesting that this is all just young dumb love between two preteens, this is genuine love, love that we rarely credit children with the capability to feel.
As different as the film may be this is still classic Anderson nostalgia, this time that nostalgia has more logic as the film takes place in 1965. A record player and a suitcase full of children’s books plays a large role in the romance. The opening shots were in my opinion the best staging of Anderson’s career as he introduces us Suzy’s house and her family members with clean horizontal shifts of the camera from room to room.
The characters in his films are stoic representations of people from a bygone era. Anger, happiness, sadness, and fear, are portrayed in that same guarded look. Moonrise Kingdom found a way to keep that stoicism while allowing the characters to express emotion within it. The climactic scene of the film is easily Anderson’s emotional best, the only moment of his career that feels close to that is Steve Zissou in The Life Aquatic confronting the Jaguar shark.
I titled this article One Trick Pony because that is what critics have boiled Wes Anderson down to; a filmmaker who uses the same styles, same characters, and same effects throughout all his films, sandwiched between a thin layer of story. Moonrise Kingdom is perhaps the best use of those styles within a beautifully simple and compelling story. Maybe it was his time spent working on the animated Fantastic Mr. Fox that gave him new perspective as he returned to live action, maybe it was the very personal feel of the characters and story. Either way Wes Anderson proves in Moonrise Kingdom that he is not simply a one trick pony.
The film has been out for some time now and if you’re still looking to see it I suggest you do it sooner than later, before it leaves all but a few second run theaters.