Monday, July 2, 2012

It's Deja Vu All Over Again

Today's film, Wes Anderson's latest, Moonrise Kingdom.

I've never been particularly a fan of Mr. Anderson's rather unique filmic vision. His first major effort, Rushmore, didn't resonate especially with me, though it was well-reviewed. I do love his next film The Royal Tenenbaums (2001). Perhaps it's the Gwyneth Paltrow thing, but the ensemble work there seems really special--Anjelica Huston, Danny Glover, Gene Hackman, Ben Stiller, Owen and Luke Wilson; it's a really great cast given a fun ensemble piece.

But his later films--The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004) and The Darjeeling Limited (2007)--both felt to me like they didn't quite hit their marks. Anderson's clay-mation Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) was almost like a page out of Wallace and Gromit, displaying Anderson's signature quirks but on a very different playing field.

Moonlight Kingdom was co-written by Anderson and Roman Coppola (who is also listed as a co-writer on Darjeeling) and tells of an unusual love story between a couple of unusual 12-year-olds in unusual circumstances and of their unusual adventures and the unusual events that bring things to their unusual conclusion. Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) is an orphan attending a summer "khaki scout" camp with a group of boys, none of whom seem to like Sam. Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward) is a troubled girl from a dysfunctional family living on the same small island where the scouts are holding their camp. Suzy and Sam meet and are immediately smitten and through a voluminous correspondence they agree to run away together. The film steps off immediately into these events, and we are filled in vis-a-vis the backstory via a series of flashbacks interspersed with the ongoing events. What follows is 90 minutes of gentle and amusing hijinks and mayhem during which the two in-love kids--supposedly the most dysfunctional of the batch--manage to help lead everyone thru. More or less.

My first reaction to the film was a suspicion of a kind of Woody Allen syndrome, which involves the telling of slight variations of the same basic story over and over again. But I don't think that's quite right (and surely misses much of Allen's work as well). Instead, I've come to think that Anderson is using a variety of stories to display the same closetful of quirks, and the quirks rather become the whole story. The same nerdy modes of dress, the same deadpan delivery / lack of affect, the same ensemble of dysfunctions, the same crayola color palette, the same quirky soundtrack. It's not that it doesn't work--I was fairly entertained--it's that I can't imagine feeling the need to tell this story with his other films already in the can. It just feels to me too much like we've all been here before (I know, I know: remind me of this as I buy my 2,000th CD of French organ music).

Anderson has corralled a great cast of adults to accompany out his child stars: Edward Norton, Frances McDormand, Bruce Willis, Bill Murray (who has been in every Anderson film). They're each given their suite of quirks, and the whole movie is enough like a comic book or a fantasy that the quirks kind of work in context. But it's the quirks that stay with me, and not necessarily with a completely positive aftertaste.

I see after the fact that the film has been getting very good reviews. And I did like it. But there's nothing here that rises above anything he's done before.

Grade: B


dbackdad said...

I do think Anderson seems to sometimes be in love with his own cleverness. I've seen everything but this newest one. I'm a big fan of Fantastic Mr. Fox. I think it works for me because there is a visual embodiment of his quirkiness that can't be properly done with live action.

It's a fine line between having your own style and just repeating yourself. It's a line that I don't think he always successfully navigates.

wunelle said...

I liked Fantastic Mr. Fox. I should re-watch it.

Actually, my analogy of a zillion CDs of French organ music is germane: I keep buying things in search of the best interpretation of a style and milieu that I love, and maybe this is the same. One of Anderson's films will be the PERFECT embodiment of his unique vision. Maybe we've already seen it, and maybe it's still to come.

This one seems better than the most recent past efforts, I'd say.