Wes Anderson’s cinematic universe is all stylized, mannered beauty, quirky stories and idiosyncratic fables playing out on a Platonic realm of perfect forms. Aliens who formed a belief about life on Earth based on this writer/director’s oeuvre would be shocked by the nasty, brutish reality they would find upon landing and would immediately fly off in search Wes Anderson World, which is a far better place, a realm in which all pain has a melancholy exquisiteness and all endings are happy.
Every Wes Anderson film fits this mold, and every one since Bottle Rocket has been a masterpiece. Moonrise Kingdom continues this tradition so thoroughly that if there’s any criticism to be leveled at it, it’s that we walk out of the theater feeling we may have seen all this before. But that’s still a pretty damn good thing.
One Anderson signature not on its fullest display is his employment of metafiction. Anderson has metafictionalized all of his work since Bottle Rocket: Rushmore is one of Max Fisher’s theatrical creations, The Royal Tenenbaums is a biography of a family of authors, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is a Zissou production, The Darjeeling Limited has us all chugging through life together, and The Fantastic Mr. Fox is the real-world children’s book come to life. While Moonrise Kingdom strays into that territory — young Suzy favors books about earthly kingdoms on Earth, plus there’s a sort of narrator (Bob Balaban) running around and providing us with geographical and meteorological details — it falls in with Fox and Tenenbaums in the post-Bottle Rocket category where you don’t need to pay the meta much mind. (Though if you want it badly enough, follow Anderson’s parallel of musical composition and filmmaking as achieving aesthetic effects partly by way of the juxtaposition of disparate elements. Sit through the closing credits for a little treat.)
Moonrise Kingdom is Anderson’s live-action follow up to the stop-motion Fox, and it looks it, sporting his most extensive use of miniatures yet and setting a new high watermark for the number of shots with dead-center framing. Generally speaking there’s the de rigueur meticulous Anderson cinematography (Robert D. Yeoman, who’s been with the man from the start), set decoration (Kris Moran; since Tenenbaums), and art direction (Gerald Sullivan, new to Andersonland), where even the squiggle of a lanyard lays across a desktop just so. But this is Anderson’s most outdoorsy opus, a natural mise en scène he masters so fantastically that a panorama from a mountaintop manages to look like one of his miniatures all blown up.
Musically, Mark Mothersbaugh is back on board (he scored Tenenbaums and The Life Aquatic), compellingly combining traditional orchestral and choral elements with electric guitar and a pop/rock respect for repetition, which results in a perfect aural complete to the onscreen imagery and mood.
The plot, you say? Suzy (Kara Hayward) and Sam (Jared Gilman) are precocious, ill-adjusted adolescents who feel at first meeting they may be meant to be together, confirming that truth as an epistolary relationship (provided for us in a magnificent sequence that is a triumph of editing) leads to an adventure that will transform not just their own lives. Anderson knows what he likes in actors, and he’s done well with Moonrise Kingdom, particularly with Hayward and Lucas Hedges. Hayward gives Suzy moments of awkward adolescent casualness that flow right into the stylishly stilted, perfect diction of Anderson creations. Hedges, playing the peer leader of Sam’s Khaki Scout troop, is not as consistently pitch-perfect as Hedges, but at his best his cavalier machismo (remember, we’re talking about a 12-year-old) is reminiscent of Willem Dafoe and creates some of the film’s funniest moments. Expect to see these two in Anderson productions for years to come.
The relationship between Suzy and Sam is tenderly awkward — perhaps as much for the audience as for the protagonists. It’s uncomfortable to see kids this young sexualized even slightly (as is Suzy in particular), but part of the point is that Mother Nature is the one who starts sexualizing kids at this age, a fact with which we all have to deal.
But sex is definitely not the point here, and the sequence of events from the pair’s physical approach to their second meeting to their closing in on each other conversationally right through to their literally loosening up on the beach and becoming lovers (in the emotional sense of the word) is deftly and beautifully handled.
Moonrise Kingdom is not Wes Anderson’s most ambitious film intellectually, nor is it his funniest or most touching. But he’s never coordinated a wider variety of elements, and the result is as well-crafted a piece of cinema as has ever been made (save a chase scene near the finale, which seems a little off). Fans of Andersonland will be glad to have stumbled into another perfect province, sad only that they can’t stay there forever.
The Art Theatre of Long Beach is located at 2025 E. 4th Street. For more information, call 562-438-5435 or visit www.arttheatrelongbeach.com.
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