Monday, July 2, 2012

Review: Moonrise Kingdom

Wes Anderson is without a doubt the quirkiest director in Hollywood.  His films have evolved from his 90's debut of Bottle Rocket (launching the careers of Luke and Owen Wilson) to the dysfunctional family opus The Royal Tenenbaums to the outstanding stop-motion animation of Fantastic Mr. Fox.  I have personal mixed feelings on Anderson's work.  I really enjoyed Mr. Fox and Tennenbaums but wasn't as wild about The Life Aquatic and passed on The Darjeeling Limited.

Anderson's latest offering of Moonrise Kingdom is a visually stunning simple story revolving around a group of boy scouts as two love-struck kids attempt to sneak away from society.  The entire world of Moonrise comes across as a living diorama as Anderson consistently uses detailed ornate set design and numerous horizontal tracking shots that make you feel that the entire film was made via a 6th-grade art project.  The true acting stars of this movie are a pair or unknown actors (Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman) that decide to mutually sneak away from home and experience the wilderness together as they escape from the overbearing friends and family that dominate their lives.  

Anderson does a great job of assembling an all-star cast of accomplished actors to portray the aforementioned friends and family.  Bill Murray and Francis McDormand play the worrywart parents of Suzy (Hayward),  McDormand is also having a secret affair on the side with the town police chief in a brilliant understated performance by Bruce Willis who ends up befriending Sam (Gilman).  Edward Norton makes a quality debut in the Anderson universe by playing the by-the-book Scout Master Ward.  Anderson's love of the scouting word comes across in this film as he treats the tradition and procedure of the scouts with respect and reverence.  There are several key scenes that showcase the order and life-building skills that a scouting experience can provide for a young boy.

While the story itself is nothing groundbreaking and actually not that interesting at times, the supporting musical score provided by Alexander Desplat and Devo co-founder Mark Mothersbaugh is perfect for the events unfolding on the screen.  A combination of folksy, whimsical songs mixed with a few bombastic classical orchestral compositions helps make the film seem more important and monumental than it really is.  This is the type of soundtrack I feel that I could listen to and fondly look back on the events of the movie.  Desplat and Mothersbaugh do an excellent job in scoring Moonrise Kingdom and end up turning in the best performance of the entire film.

Without a doubt this is the most intricately staged film that Anderson has attempted.  The attention to detail in each and every scene is very impressive.  Both Hayward and Gilman are excellent in their debut roles and are buoyed by an outstanding experienced cast. This is not a perfect film nor is it the most entertaining Anderson movie to-date, but Moonrise Kingdom is an above average slice of entertainment that can probably be viewed on video rather than in the theater.  Considering the film is not showing in many local theaters right now, DVD/Bluray in a couple of months is probably your best bet.  A solid 3.5 out of 5 JRs for an accomplished and typical Wes Anderson movie.  I wish that Anderson would take a step out of his comfort zone and try something a little different and less quirky in his next directorial effort.

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