Monday, June 11, 2012

Review: Moonrise Kingdom

When analyzing a Wes Anderson movie, it almost seems obligatory to state upfront whether you're "in" or "out." Are you a fan or detractor, a believer or a skeptic? It seems more appropriate to consider whether you're "fluent," because Wes Anderson seems to be a language unto himself, each of his movies a different republic in the linguistic empire.

I am indeed a fan. I've seen every Anderson creation short of "Fantastic Mr. Fox," and I consider "Rushmore" one of my 10 favorite movies of all time. Yet I can't exactly say why. Nor can I coherently defend a movie like "Rushmore" to someone who hates it or feels indifferent toward it. "Oh, you just don't get it," I'd like to say. But then again, I'm not sure that I can explain what "it" is.

All I can say is that, as with any Wilco album or episode of Mad Men, I believe that any Wes Anderson movie is almost automatically better than 95 percent of the genre-similar material around it. There's something in his preference for visual symmetry, human obsession, rapid sideways dolly moves, purposely formalized dialogue, interiors that resemble a dollhouse cut into cross-section, obscure Kinks songs played over slow motion, Bill Murray, people chewing, and general mixture of adult fatalism with childish idealism that I never seem to tire of. Like a Hopper painting that shows the faintest beat of life trapped within a landscape of loneliness, Anderson hits me on an emotional level just by the construction of his first shot.

So I entered "Moonrise Kingdom" with sky-high expectations. And indeed, they were satisfied for about 80 minutes. Taking the Wes Anderson "thing" and applying it to escapist misfit kids in a New England island landscape in the 1970s gave a fresh quality to a well-established cinematic vibe. But then something happened. At the risk of offering a semi-spoiler, I'll tell you that lightning literally struck. And from that point until the end of the movie, I realized how effectively Anderson had set up Moonrise Kingdom's internal logic, because he somehow violated it at that moment, and the center no longer held.

One moment, and everything evaporated. My caring for the kids faded. I no longer saw humor in the quirkiness of the adults. One particular recurring dialogue convention suddenly felt quite forced, even silly. It's as difficult to describe what went wrong as it is to describe everything that feels so right in a Wes Anderson movie.

I left disappointed, yet I would happily see it again. And maybe that's Wes Anderson's feeling on life in general, and what his films are ultimately supposed to leave you with.