Because Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom is getting the kind of raves usually reserved for doctors who cure polio, it’s necessary for me to admit this up front: I don’t like his films. They’re twee, which is perhaps why hipsters like them; they’re lifeless, perhaps a result of the tired camera-into-dollhouse motif that crops up again and again in his pictures; and they go on forever, which is a feat considering most of them hover around the 90-minute mark.
Moonrise Kingdom isn’t the Anderson film I’ve liked least (that honor belongs to The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou) and it does have its moments. The story’s central narrative, about two 12-year-olds who fall in love and run away together, is charming enough. Anyone who remembers a first kiss or an awkward middle school slow dance will get caught up in performances by Kara Hayward, who plays Suzy, and Jared Gilman, who plays Sam.
Suzy feels alienated from her family; Sam doesn’t have one (his parents are dead). In flashback. we see them meet cute—or what Anderson thinks passes for cute—at a town musical. She’s in the cast. He’s wandering around the facilities where the musical is being staged, presumably for the purposes of meeting Suzy cute-like.
After they split, a search party goes after them. Simple enough, right? Wrong! See, Sam is a member of a scout troop and he knows how to build fires, set up camp, all that good stuff. It’s helpful for running away (and convenient for the story). Unfortunately, the price to pay is Edward Norton as a taskmaster scout leader.
And this is where the Anderson fatigue sets in: Watch Norton walk through the camp and give orders while a young boy takes notes as the camera follows them (just like Jason Schwartzmann and Mason Gamble in Rushmore!); watch the usually excellent Bill Murray stick out like a sore thumb (just like he did in The Royal Tenenbaums!); watch your watch move slower and slower each time Sam and Suzy leave the screen (as it does in all Anderson films when the leads aren’t on-screen!); watch Tilda Swinton seem otherworldly (just like she seems in everything!).
Anderson and his co-writer, Roman Coppola, have reached new levels of underwriting characters. There’s so little for them to do and they’re so thinly drawn that major movie stars—including Murray, Bruce Willis, Frances McDormand, Norton and Swinton—must fill them out. Otherwise, why watch these people?
As for the quirk, there are so many dumb-clever moments—a foster home with the words “BILLINGSLEY FOSTER HOME FOR BOYS” written on the side of the house; Bob Balaban as the on-screen narrator; an obnoxious dialogue homage to Coppola’s father, Francis Ford Coppola—that it’s overwhelming. And let’s not forget Anderson’s adults-are-childish-and-children-act-like-adults-but-still-have-the-innocence-of-children thing that he has cultivated into pseudo-art.
Anyway, it all ends well, which is to say cute. But Moonrise Kingdom, like Anderson’s other films (except Rushmore, which I quite enjoyed), is an exhausting drag. I don’t know how his fans do it.