What a peaceable kingdom: Andersonworld

The first memorable thing about Moonrise Kingdom is the way Scoutmaster Edward Norton holds a cigarette in his right hand as far away from his body as possible. The second are the colors. You’ve never seen a red-painted wooden house this red. Or lawns this green. Moonrise Kingdom is another Wes Anderson’s curio, a fantasia set on a northeastern island where a lawyer (Frances McDormand) cuckolds her husband, also a lawyer (Bill Murray), with the local law (Bruce Willis) and a sociopathic Boy Scout named Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) runs away from Norton’s troup to meet Suzy (Kara Hayward), the twelve-year-old daughter of the lawyers possessed by the usual adolescent miseries. With his masterly grasp of survival techniques and tent assembly, Sam is a lot like Max Fischer, the obsinate permanent teenager not very good at learning what you teach him but excellent at picking up things on his own (in this one Jason Schwartzman has a small role, of course). Suzy is a ringer for the kohl-eyed Gwyneth Paltrow in The Royal Tennenbaums.

What distinguishes Moonrise Kingdom from other Anderson joints is the frankness with which two characters — at last! — explore their sexuality. A dance sequence on a beach, reminiscent of Godard’s Pierrot le fou, leads to actual French kissing and tentative breast fondling; my audience gasped around its nervous titters. After this frisson dissipates, there’s not much else except bricolage: Suzy, for example, and her fondness for Francoise Hardy; her undistinguished siblings listen to Benjamin Britten records on a kiddie turntable; the tan inelasticity of Edward Norton’s socks; Tilda Swinton in ridiculous robin’s egg blue hat and wardrobe. Swinton, caricaturing repression, isn’t given a name but is archly referred to as “Social Services.” If you have any affinity for Anderson, then his willful constriction of feeling is at its most adept. His previous film Fantastic Mr. Fox was less than eighty minutes long and I couldn’t get enough of it; Moonrise Kingdom is just over ninety and I was looking at my watch after the second false climax. Admirers of Bresson looking for an American heir may need to look at Anderson, in whose films the intentional flatness of the line readings and meticulous blocking force audiences to look for subtexts. But his whimsy keeps getting in the way of narrative development. I liked the reticence of one quiet moment between Willis and Gilman in his trailer as they share beers (onscree Willis has a special rapport with kids), and the kids’ relationship makes sense; but there’s no escaping the fact that in the casting of Swinton, McDormand, and Harvey Keitel, Anderson’s turning star non-turns into a fetish, the same way Woody Allen has. None of these actors contribute anything deserving their billing (“Hey, what’s Harvey Keitel doing with Sam Elliott’s mustache?”). Give me smart ass animated foxes speaking Roald Dahl’s dialogue anytime.

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