Moonrise Kingdom (2012) – Wes Anderson (Dir.), Ed Norton, Bruce Willis, Bill Murray (duh), Frances McDormand, Jason Schwartzman (also duh)
You might notice the word ‘Relapse’ is conspicuously missing from the title of this article. You might not. Then I just lied about it being conspicuous. In any case, this ain’t no relapse, people. When you have to purposefully seek out a film like this at a fancy establishment, one where Haneke’s White Ribbon sells out it’s entire opening weekend, a place whose only posters are in another language, and a place where, when you order coffee at the concession stand, they give you METROPOLIS COFFEE. If you’re not from Chicago, you won’t understand how exciting that is. But it is. Very exciting. This is the kind of theater, when you settle into the seats, you discover that you’re under the average age of the audience by approximately a thousand years. No joke, the guy who sat in front of me had a black thunderbolt earring and a two foot rattail. True story. I wish I could be him never. Anyway, the conclusion: this is a Film. Or so it purports…
Let’s take a moment, boys and girls, sit upon the grass and discuss a man named Wes. A gentleman, if you will. A fellow of such quirk, he makes Zooey Deschanel look like Walter Kronkite. And he would look terrible with those bangs. This is the man who made Jason Schwartzman famous. This is the man who keeps Jason Schwartzman famous. The man who resurrected Bill Murray from the paws of Garfield and filtered his cantankerous hatred of all life on earth into hilariously misanthropic assholes. The man who put Willem Dafoe in a red condom-hat and gave him the silliest German accent this side of Die Hard with a Vengeance (Jeremy Irons’ most underrated of all his films starring Samuel J. Jackson as a man named Zeus). Basically, if you are a white hipster (sorry, redundant) the very proximity of the words ‘Wes’ and ‘Anderson’ and ‘new’ is enough to get your balls wetter than the promise of a free PBR, day-glo-rim sunglass party.
I don’t think I’m a hipster…which probably means I’m a hipster. I love me some Wes. The climax of Rushmore where the school reenacts Vietnam war movies on-stage is fucking incredible. Also, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou had songs by Sigur Ros! (Dear fucking god, I’m white. Oh well, can’t be helped.) My deep-seeded adoration for the man truly codified itself when I first sat in the movie theater and witnessed the cinematic perfection that is Fantastic Mr. Fox. I grew up with that book. I loved it. More than anything. The movie really…well…wasn’t the book. But it was fucking amazing. Now, there are those who say, “Wes Anderson makes the same movie with similar characters and similar artistic direction. It’s like he’s copying himself.” Alright, shut up. That’s like going into a burger place, ordering a burger and then accusing it of being made of fucking beef. If you order a burger, you get a fucking burger. Unless there’s a severe mishap in the time space continuum between the kitchen and your hipster/non-hipster mouth, it’s not going to magically transform into a mutherfucking panini. It’s a burger. You like it, or you don’t. If you don’t, don’t order it.
Rant over. Commence civility. So, Moonrise Kingdom, where does it lie in the canon of Wes? Well, it’s pretty fucking good. We’ve got Ed Norton and Bruce Willis giving the best performances in at least five years which, for Willis, is like squeezing a rhino and hoping peanut butter is going to come out. And it does! Magically, this rhino is pooping organic, Whole Foods PB all over the place. And it’s delicious. That is the level of magician that Wes Anderson actually is. Willis’ portrayal as a sad-sack police officer on an island of approximately twelve people is so heart-breaking and adorable that you just want to give him a cuddle. And then you remember he was in The Whole Ten Yards and you back away slowly. Also, Ed Norton, who has been in hibernation since his last foray into giant green terribleness is back as a mild-mannered, math-teaching, straight-laced scout leader, who, no matter what he does or his extreme levels of competency, has no way of controlling this horde of evil super-genius khaki scouts. Also, the part where he jumps into the firework hut to grab Harvey Keitel is one of the most confusing, amazing moments in recent cinematic history.
So…what’s this one about? Weird loser with a bad childhood who is cooler than everyone else and, because of that, is a social pariah? Check. Angry, misunderstood girl with heavy eye-liner? Check. Beautiful sets that look so good you want to lick them? Check. Bill Murray being, well, Bill Murray? Check. It’s got everything you could want/love/hate in a Wes Anderson film. Does it do anything different? Well…not really. It just does the same thing really, really well. He managed to added a fascinating blend of brie cheese and sautéed pear to the top of his burger, served on a brioche bun. But it’s still a fucking burger. This, however, is the first time I’ve ever watched an Anderson film with this ‘critical’ eye. So, what did I see? Hmmm…
Perhaps what stuck out more than anything is that in almost every one of his films, Fox, Life Aquatic, Darjeeling Limited, he includes a set with a very careful cross-section. By way of whatever camera tricks he chooses to employ, the entire piece of scenery takes on the feel of a doll house, where the characters are simply little toys that he chooses to toss around. Each of the people he crafts on screen seems to be physically forced into every situation and yet there is so much more going on under the surface than we shall ever see. By that token, all of the children act like they’re thirty and all of the adults act like they’re twelve. Nobody actually knows how to outwardly express emotion except for a) running away b) throwing a shoe at Bruce Willis c) chopping down a tree while supping a merlot. It’s a menagerie of stunted emotional expression. In the end, by decorating the scenes with furniture containing almost as much character as the humans sitting on it, we get the feeling that this is more a moving picture book, a series of images that sometimes chooses to be alive and sometimes not.
Kingdom is certainly one of his more bizarre films, eclipsed by perhaps only Life Aquatic. That’s a weird fucking movie. This one is narratively slightly more conventional. We have the young summer love, two children with over-inflated vocabularies and far too cool a taste in French music, discovering their bodies and independence. There was an extended section with the young female lead in her underwear. That was…awkward. But that dude with the rattail sitting in front of me did not mind at all. So, I guess if he’s happy, I’m happy. I guess… As the climax rolls up in the form of a massive storm (hilariously narrated by Bob Balaban as some sort of weather man/god. I want god to be like Bob Balaban…he’s like an chartered public account…but with a soul) the action gets fairly insane. We’ve got lightning strikes, explosions, Harvey “The Wolf” Keitel (again, where the fuck did he come from?), Jason Schwartzman ordaining marriages…it seems like what is constantly happening inside of Thom York’s head. Well, not that nuts.
It left me thinking though. What if Ed Norton’s downtrodden math teacher returns after the summer to his life in the inner city, realizing that his troubles are really due to major gang violence. In order to cope, he falls in with a charismatic leader of young men, gets a fancy tattoo on his chest, shaves his head and then curb stomps a gangbuster. Perhaps we could call it Moonrise Kingdom 2: American History X. Or, what if, after saving the universe from the great evil, Corbin Dallas falls through a gap in space and time, finding himself stuck on this deadbeat island with nothing to do but fish and miss Milla Jovovich wearing nothing but white straps? That would make this movie The Fifth Element: Twee Edition. But, seriously, here is a mild selection of my favorite stuff from this movie: Frances McDormand on a bull horn, Benjamin Britten, the little brother with the side-parting, a kid getting stabbed with safety scissors, Bill Murray lifting a tent, a three-way convo between Bruce Willis, Ed Norton and Tilda “Sexy in a Slightly Terrifying Way” Swinton, an obnoxiously high treehouse, the lightning field, a door that opens on the bottom and the top. None of this will make sense until you watch the movie. Fucking watch it.
In the end, as the credits rolled by and we saw the adorably awkward
Max I mean, SAM and Margot, fuck, I meant Suzy, as we see their love blossom and bloom, undoubtedly blissful as the sun still shone and the temperature still hovered in the mid-eighties, you can’t help but wish to find another soul with which to spend at least the fleeting moments of the summer dream. As the lights came up, I glanced across the theater, hoping to glean the eye of another touched heart, another person longing for at least an ephemeral connection. Something minor. Something just to hide away in the memory box of our youth.
All I saw was old people. That dude with the thunderbolt earring and two-foot rattail put his arm around the woman next to him, gave her a kiss and sauntered from the room. If that guy can make it, shit, anyone can. I guess I should get going on growing that rattail.