October 16, 2012

DVD OF THE WEEK: Moonrise Kingdom

by Vadim Rizov

Moonrise Kingdom

Every new Wes Anderson movie is accused of overfamiliarity and being somehow too "Wes Anderson-y." This has happened with the writer-director's every release since 2001's The Royal Tenenbaums, which left the recognizable Texas of Bottle Rocket and Rushmore for a mythical New York of Anderson's own devising. His movies rely on his specific visual tics rather than geography for their continuity, especially his taste for exquisite/fussy clothing and tastefully designed interiors. In the wake of the catastrophically received Elizabethtown, The Onion ran a 2005 piece to mock Cameron Crowe with the self-explanatory headline "Cameron Crowe to Release Only Soundtracks." Similarly, Anderson's been accused (along with Crowe and Sofia Coppola) of curating visual mixtapes rather than full-blooded movies with characters who can be empathized with. In the spirit of public service, here's a breakdown of how Anderson's new film Moonrise Kingdom (on DVD and Blu-ray today) takes his familiar preoccupations and, as usual, finds a reinvigorated form for them:

Moonrise Kingdom

Dollhouse interiors: The Royal Tenenbaums is the most suffocating movie of Anderson's career and the only one to which charges of narrative death by production design can stick. The emblematic moment is a confrontation between son Ben Stiller and father Gene Hackman in a closet whose boardgame titles ("Operation," "Risk" and other nostalgia-evoking mainstays) have greater visual impact and presence than the human performers. Compare this with the opening of Moonrise Kingdom, leisurely rainy day pans through a large New England house. In one room, board games are visible but at the back of the fuzzy 16mm frame, present but not screaming about how carefully they've been chosen.

Moonrise Kingdom

Absent fathers: Familiar elements in Moonrise Kingdom begin with the precociously troubled children at its center: picked-on orphan Sam (Jared Gilman) and sporadically violent Suzy (Kara Hayward), descendants of every Anderson film's protagonists, whose troubles always stem from their relationship to family or lack thereof and manifest themselves in adolescent acting-out. Total control over every grain in the frame is rendered impossible by the format (especially when blown up to super-grainy 35mm), as Anderson deliberately allows room for visual error. In every film, Anderson places new physical obstacles to complicate his usual themes: shooting on destabilizing water in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, the constraints of a train and on-the-fly on-location shots in The Darjeeling Limited, the stop-motion total control of Fantastic Mr. Fox.

Moonrise Kingdom

Violence: Suzy sometimes blacks out and goes into violent fits of rage. She has a real problem, shown both in expository flashback and in the present. Sam and Suzy run away from their troubles, and she stabs a kid with a pair of scissors to get away from a search-and-rescue party. Explosions of physical rage and moments of uncontrollable violence disrupt many Anderson movies, hanging heavy over the rest of the often seemingly lightweight material: Luke Wilson's suicide attempt in Tenenbaums (and brother Owen's implied attempt in The Darjeeling Limited), Mrs. Fantastic Fox clawing her husband. Suzy's adolescent rage threatens her and others, a grave teen crisis presented sympathetically rather than a twee problem of the privileged middle class.

Moonrise Kingdom

Ensemble casts: Anderson's mascot Bill Murray is present, along with regular collaborator Jason Schwartzman. But Moonrise Kingdom welcomes many new players to Anderson's world, most notably Bruce Willis, a genuine matinee star. Occasionally, Willis likes to make a left-field appearance in relatively low-budget terrain (Fast Food Nation, Breakfast of Champions). Willis fits perfectly into Anderson's world, playing benevolent police captain Sharp. Tasked with looking after Sam until a child services worker comes to place him in foster care, he cheerfully admits he's probably dumber than his charge and benevolently takes a largely hands-off approach. That makes him—along with Seymour Cassel in Rushmore—a model father figure, and it's one of Willis' most endearing performances.

Moonrise Kingdom

Depression: Moonrise Kingdom climaxes with a messy, prolonged setpiece of physical disaster, as a hurricane leads to flash flooding. Following the cider flood displacing the animals in Fantastic Mr. Fox and forcing them to relocate to the sewers, this is the second literal and symbolic Anderson storm. Messy, excessive and a little endless, it's a strong attempt to push the movie outside of the Wes Anderson box through an action sequence. It also conceals the melancholy lurking at the movie's center. The title is only explained in the last shot, a shared memory of a place that's been physically destroyed by the rising waters, making for an affecting movie about tangible loss shot on a dying format.



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Posted by ahillis at October 16, 2012 3:28 PM