Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Moonrise Kingdom (2012) – Review

Review: Moonrise Kingdom is a charming dramedy that is a joy to watch. The film is about young love, in the form of two kids (Suzy and Sam) who run away together to camp out on a small island off the New England Coast. Noticing their disappearance, the town forms a posse to look for them. Writer-director Wes Anderson (here co-writing with Roman Coppola) takes on the narrative with his usual creative flare and quirky sensibilities. His blocking, framing and overall mise en scene are all fantastic as usual, and along with his camera moments (but more so his cutting and what the camera moves achieve) the overall visual shooting style is clearly aligned with his past work but also feels very much like an Yasujiro Ozu film (I thought of An Autumn Afternoon a lot while watching this – how the actors are all shot straight on with 90 or 180 degree cuts/camera moves). The narrative feels like it takes place in an alternate storybook world (not so much a fantasy world – though there is maybe a slight aspect of that too, even though the narrative to an extent and especially the characters are rooted very much in reality) where everything has aesthetic value and the guise of innocence. Many of Anderson’s characters in his past work find themselves looking back with disappointment on all the potential they had in youth but have seemingly squandered, but here Anderson’s leads are young kids just broaching their development into adults (adult feelings and experiences, i.e. maturity) – specifically for Sam and Suzy, finding first love. Sam and Suzy at first glance seem very naïve, as they approach their relationship with complete frankness, honesty and lack of scope (wanting to get married at the age of 12), and yet their love feels absolutely genuine because they get each other (both being outsiders) and in their own innocent way completely buy into their feelings for each other (having not been disillusioned by bad relationships and life experiences involving love yet). Their relationship and its authenticity are what make the film so charming (coupled with Anderson’s style), as the audience can relate to these characters in an almost (if not completely) nostalgic way (while still seeing emotions that are still relevant today in whatever facet of life a viewer may be in). The adult characters (especially Captain Sharp, Scout Master Ward and Mr. and Mrs. Bishop) have seemingly a juxtaposed inherent sadness to them, having been worn down by age and experience. Suzy and Sam’s relationship is simple – they love each other and want to be together, but the adults have much more complex relationships and disappointments that weigh on them. This juxtaposition again plays into a nostalgic emotional response to the film (the film also reminded me of Peter Pan, especially when Suzy is reading to all the Scouts – Wendy and the Lost Boys, in its seeming fight to against the inevitable and impending maturity of these young characters). The narrative and characters are presented wonderfully by Anderson to harken back to being a kid, just on the precipice of growing up – something that resonates with all viewers. Anderson is also mindful of the narrative structure and pacing of his film. This is not quite in the form of a simple and typical three act structure, as the film begins with the characters already setting out to begin their adventure, the preceding events are detailed later in the film in flashbacks (but it still more or less fits into the three act hero’s journey). Anderson keeps the pacing tight and the story moving (but does slow it down in moments to allow Sam and Suzy’s relationship and characters to be fully fleshed out and have time to breathe) to keep the audience engaged (subconsciously) amidst this somewhat more complex style structure. Moonrise Kingdom is a film about growing up, as children are flooded with more adult emotions and feelings. Through his typical remarkable style and ability to create strange and terrific characters, Anderson is able to tell this tale about growing up and young love in such a way as to have it fully resonate with its viewers, filling them with joy, and comment in sort of a self-reflexive way on the emotional state of adulthood and loss of innocence.

Technical, aesthetic & acting achievements: Wes Anderson has cultivated such a unique style across his seven feature films that his work is immediately recognizable. With Moonrise Kingdom, fans of his films will get exactly what they expect, while his detractors will probably feel like he is still not growing or changing as a filmmaker, as this film very much feels and looks like his others in many ways. However, I would say that Moonrise Kingdom is more hopeful than his recent live-action films (The Life Aquatic and The Darjeeling Limited) in that it seems as if the characters are all better off at the end than at the beginning, and happier (similar to Rushmore). For the most part, though, this fits neatly in with the rest of his work. Working for the second time with Anderson, composer Alexandre Desplat provides an enchanting and jovial score that perfectly fits the tone and magic of the film. (As usual from Desplat) it is wonderful work (here is a sample). Peter Jarvis and Mark Mothersbaugh also contribute a fine piece to the score as well. Anderson's found music soundtrack is great as well (featuring a lot of Hank Williams). Robert D. Yeoman (who has shot all of Anderson’s live-action films) again collaborates beautifully with Anderson. As with all of their films, the camera plays as much a role in the film as the characters. Yeoman’s lighting along with Adam Stockhausen’s brilliant production design gives the world of the film an almost fantastical feel – it is a beautiful piece of cinema with a great color pallet of greens and browns and just the right mix of reds and pinks. The cast of characters is made up of two young leads, and an ensemble of young and adult characters. Jason Schwartzman (who brings a burst of energy to the film), Bill Murray, Bruce Willis, and Edward Norton are all great in the film (especially Schwartzman and Norton), among these small roles. The two young leads, each making their film debuts, are fantastic. Kara Hayward’s Suzy to some extent takes on the form of Sam’s dream friend (girl), in that she accepts him when seemingly no one else does and the same goes for Sam for Suzy. Hayward plays her to be willful with air of mystery and deep contemplation. Jared Gilman’s Sam is odd, but very likable and friendly, and just does not understand why others seem to dislike him.

Summary & score: Moonrise Kingdom is sort of like a children’s story book written for adults. It has all the charm, joy and nostalgia of youth but also with the sadness and complexity of maturity. 9/10

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