If Standard & Poor’s assessed film production values Wes Anderson would remain a AAA-rated cineaste year in and year out. The level of detail that went into every square inch of “Moonrise Kingdom,” which had its premiere here in Cannes a few hours ago, is above perfection. But “Moonrise” fails on other levels. Adult characters wretchedly watch as their kids go about resolving the problems of their day (only to finally prevail, at the very end), and we watch along with them without really ever understanding the whys and the hows of their inertia. “Moonrise” isn’t without its tender moments but its flaws are many.
It’s difficult to get into “Moonrise” because adults don’t get invited to the party. This is a movie for kids about kids. The plot, conjured entirely by Wes Anderson and committed to paper in collaboration with Roman Coppola, never rises above the level of the story books which Suzy (newcomer Kara Hayward) lovingly reads to her pre-teen beau Sam (Jared Gilman) after they escape, her from dull family life and he from the unfriendly boy scouts he settled at summer camp with.
The adults (played by Bill Murray, Frances McDormand and Bruce Willis) seem more like distant wardens unversed in the mysteries of childhood than active caretakers. They do stiff and awkward well, the memo from head office apparently got through. Did Anderson tell everyone during the first cast meet, “I need you to play stiff and awkward. If you’re not willing to play ball, please leave”? It’s hard to achieve chemistry between characters in this way.
The only actor who helped perk things up was Edward Norton’s performance as Scout Master Ward. He’s got game, jumping into action to find his missing boy scout, and yet appears more like a grown-up kid than anything else, sulking alone in his tent when things don’t go his way.
The rewards of “Moonrise,” and most other Wes Anderson films (since he adheres to the same modus operandi), are few and far between.
His films are useful, he captures American life like no one else and transports us into another life state–and besides, we can never have enough real auteurs in America, especially as the old guard steadily declines. But the childlike viewpoint which he reliably assays in all his films is only superficially interesting. You can show the world from a child’s perspective, all the while keeping it relevant to an adult audience. But there’s another problem.
A subplot in which Suzy’s mother (McDormand) is having an affair with the local cop (played by Bruce Willis) leaves you wondering why it was written into the story. It adds nothing to the story except to stoke the flames slightly further when the big dramatic denouement ensues. Aside from a very strong beginning in which scenes relay information to us in rapid-fire fashion and we’re efficiently told what to expect (a very bearded Bob Balaban acts as a narrator and one-man Greek chorus). The score, which was written by French composer Alexander Desplat fills “Moonrise” with stamina and poetry (Desplat is behind the original score for no fewer than six films this year at Cannes). Perhaps the film’s strong musical score is its own saving grace?
An interesting musical fact about the premiering of “Moonrise Kingdom” at Cannes: in a scene early on in the film there’s a Noah’s Ark Church Pageant whose costumes were influenced by “Carnival of the Animals,” according to Anderson. And “Carnival” was authored by French composer Saint-Saens. As it were, Saint-Saens’s opus is also where the Cannes Festival’s theme music was taken from. It’s a nicesymbol to launch the festival with, although “Moonrise Kingdom” was unconvincing.
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