(directed by Wes Anderson, 2012)
If hipsters had a heaven, you can bet everything would be framed precisely in the center.
Which is to say that for Wes Anderson fans, “Moonrise Kingdom” is about as good as it gets. Gone is the cloying self-consciousness, the hip detachment, the willingness to create genuine human moments only to undercut them, all of which plague his films at their worst.
Or wait. That’s not exactly true. That’s all still there; his tricks haven’t left. Instead he presents these tropes that are the comforting reminder of a Wes Anderson world, then snatches them from beneath us to present a world of true melancholy, warmth, and honesty.
What results is one whimsical concoction that’s not entirely like anything else in theaters this year. And yet that’s true for all Anderson movies, isn’t it? Love him or hate him, how many directors can screen any random five seconds of any of their movies, and you instantly know whose it is? What a rare and precious gift that is.
That this movie’s making money is even more encouraging. Anderson breaks through to the multiplex crowds, and he does it without condescending or changing what makes him special. Never in “Moonrise Kingdom” do we catch a whiff of Anderson sacrificing his artistic ideals. Instead he AMPLIFIES them, and forces the audiences to bend to his auteur groove.
Set on a 1960s island that might well have sprung from a picture book, “Moonrise Kingdom” concerns two preteen outcasts. One is Sam, the outcast of a summer scout camp for cub scouts, who was probably born wearing his glasses. The other is Suzy, who lives on the island and runs away with Sam as a hurricane rapidly looms overhead. This jailbreak doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, as the island leaves relatively little space for them to hide. But hey, it’s an adventure for a week.
Maybe they’re genuinely in love. Maybe they’re just infatuated with the idea that someone else seems to understand them. It doesn’t matter. Anderson treats it with utmost respect just the same. Bill Murray also shows up because of course he does. And this being Bill Murray, his eyes reveal enough lurking melancholy to render the screenplay moot.
Throughout all this, Anderson fills his canvas with colors, but not the sort that call attention to themselves. It’s mostly a series of muted greens and khakis, amplifying the natural landscape and the scouts’ uniforms themselves. All as if to say this world feeds off and mirrors those that occupy it. There might as well not be any people on the island outside those concerned to the movie.
Not a frame gets wasted. Not a frame calls attention to itself or feels like it’s showing off or exists for its own sake. Anderson is in complete command of his craft here, tailoring every image to simultaneously inform, entertain, and enchant.
Hipsters get a bad reputation, and with good reason, because they suck. But maybe that’s the easy way out. The way of standing back and judging that which we do not care enough to understand. What makes people loathe hipsters (along with many other reasons) is their conscious effort to appear different. Knowing they’re cool isn’t enough. We all need to be subjected to it too.
That’s too simplistic, though. Empathy is one of the most important human emotions, and key in this case is to recognize the human longing lurking beneath.
All this to say that “Moonrise Kingdom” feels like Anderson’s own response to his earlier work. He returns to the familiar twee tropes. But then reminds us there’s a real beating heart in there too.
What a magical place his mind must be.