The thing is, I like Wes Anderson, but I’m beginning to suspect that once you’ve seen a couple of his movies, you’ve seen them all. The goofy shtick that makes up his adult fairy tales is so distinctive and repetitive that, like AC/DC albums, his films start to run together. I think that you could watch “Bottle Rocket,” “Rushmore,” and “The Royal Tenenbaums” and call yourself an expert on Wes Anderson. Nothing I have seen by him since those films has moved his vision forward or offered anything really new.
That’s not to say that Anderson’s latest, “Moonrise Kingdom,” isn’t pleasant enough. It’s a story of young love, a commentary on being different, and a tale of how the daily grind of adult life can gradually lead to disappointment. Hollywood newcomer Jared Gilman plays Sam, a 12-year-old “Khaki Scout” and social misfit who sneaks away from camp to meet up with Suzy (fellow newcomer Kara Hayward). Suzy has her own problems fitting in, and the two share a tragic bond of awkwardness, made less tragic because it is shared. The odyssey of their trek across a small, New England island draws in Suzy’s parents (Frances McDormand and Bill Murray), the island’s lone policeman (Bruce Willis), and Sam’s scout troop, including his sympathetic, bumbling scoutmaster (Edward Norton). Meanwhile, we learn that Suzy’s mom knows a little bit about forbidden love herself. The tale is set in the 1960’s, and culminates with surrealist abandon during an historic New England hurricane.
I find myself wavering between liking “Moonrise Kingdom” and criticizing it for being the same old, Wes Anderson song-and-dance. I think it’s fair to say the film deserves both. On display are Anderson’s signature oddballs, with their stiff way of talking and their emotional wounds. His recurring them is that families of all varieties are full of dysfunctional people and relationships, but they are all we’ve got. I think he said it better in “The Royal Tenenbaums.” Likewise his commentary about how difficult it is to grow up as a slightly odd kid is welcome, but it sparkled more in “Rushmore.”
Viewed on it’s own merits, “Moonrise Kingdom” deserves kudos for its child stars. Gilman and Hayward adeptly lend their creepy, wounded characters the right balance of precociousness and innocence. Their love story is sweet, and it provides a good backdrop for Suzy’s mom’s tragic love-life. I liked the poignant juxtaposition of Suzy, who is free to pursue true, passionate love, but isn’t old enough, and her Mom, whose freedom to pursue that kind of love is shackled by the responsibilities that age brings. I also enjoyed the sheer outdoorsiness of Sam and Suzy’s trek through nature. For a weird kid, Sam is quite an expert on hiking, fishing, and camping.
Overall, I recommend “Moonrise Kingdom.” It’s a fun, sweet story. For Wes Anderson fans, this is more of what you love from him. For those who don’t know Anderson’s work, I would strongly suggest watching “Rushmore” and the other films mentioned above.
3 stars out of 5