In a year when one of the top films pits kids against each other in an arena, where the world watches central Pennsylvania as one of the most grotesque pedophilia cases in history rocks a small town, and every political analyst seems to turn to the age old outcry of “someone think of the children”, Wes Anderson treats us to a fetish-filled bitter ninety-five minute romp that feels more like a lampoon on childhood than a stylistic homage.
Moonrise Kingdom is a beautifully art directed period piece about a young boy who leaves the scouts after being brutally bullied to meet up with a girl he met the previous year at a church Noah play. That is the most simplistic version of Anderson’s very adult story about complicated relationships and fitting in. While this sounds like it should mold itself into an allegory about being young the over-the-top dialogue and special effects push Moonrise away from honesty and toward fabrication.
There is nothing but wit and aged dialogue from the mouths of these babes and whatever purity and awkwardness should exist in pubescent newcomers is stricken from the characterizations and replaced with cynicism and insubordination. In this film, the older you are, the dumber you get and the more petty you become. If the youths are the true geniuses, then maturation becomes the enemy.
In a crucial beach scene, sexual morays are pushed as each child discovers frenching, second base, and an awkward hymen metaphor involving ear piercing, exposing the lack of gentle or deep explorations into these teens’ psyche. In an offensive move, the female is portrayed as impulsive and violent for no reason and the male has all his quirks explained away to foster care.
What bothered me the most in this film is the complete lack of realism in both dialogue and setting. Sure, there are coming of age films that take place in fake towns, fantasy realms, and involve inanimate objects (See Wall-E and Brave Little Toaster) but those films contain more heart and human nuance than Moonrise Kingdom contains dolly shots.
Some have argued that Moonrise is the kid’s film Wes Anderson needed to get off his chest. In that I find the most banal of summations. Since when do we give filmmakers free passes for projects they need to get off their proverbial chests? Since when don’t we analyze the lessons they yearn to put forth? In Anderson’s fantasy youth, nothing happens because of reasoning, people change their minds on a whim, and spousal infidelity is boiled down to sharing different beds and cigarettes. Perhaps if the film’s narrator were a child instead of a fifty-year old man these would be excusable but since the tale comes from someone who should know better I find it hard to connect.
Still, the shots are beautiful, the costuming is whimsical, and the furtive glances are wistful. This is Anderson Art Design at its best and the cinematography will sweep you off your feet. But one can only look at the screen for so long before you wonder why you care about what’s going on. Though the performances are strong- particularly Bruce Willis and Ed Norton- it feels like talented actors working within a realm where we are never meant to LOVE anyone or anything; we’re just meant to watch. Voyeurism is one of the strongest filmic urges but feels almost pedophilic as we gaze upon developing bodies and minds. Shots often linger or angle themselves to force the viewer out of their comfort zone and only seem to do so for the purpose of inciting the audience and not the story.
Overall Moonrise Kingdom delivers what we’ve come to expect from Anderson pieces; polarizing feelings and captivating viewing. I was never bored, seldom shocked, but nevertheless dissatisfied. Moonrise creates children too smart for their own good, without grounding, and forces itself so far from reality that nary a frame carries the soul we yearn for with this genre. Like a snarky Norman Rockwell painting without the moral, Moonrise Kingdom has the looks but no brain.