Sunday, May 20, 2012

Moonrise Kingdom

A recent trip to Paris and London provided me with all sorts of cinephilic pleasures. These included a great digital restoration of Grand Illusion at the BFI and a nice repertory print of Vincente Minnelli's 1955 film The Cobweb in the same theater, as well as a trip to the Tim Burton exhibition at the Cinematheque Francaise. (A montage of clips from his career in the exhibition has me pining to watch Pee Wee's Big Adventure and Batman Returns again). But the unequivocal highlight of the film portion of my trip was the unexpected treat of seeing Wes Anderson's new Moonrise Kingdom on the night of its Cannes premiere, when it simultaneously opened throughout Paris.

My initial impression of the movie - which I liked a lot - is that it's Anderson's best since 2004's The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. Even while it does not quite scale the heights of his best work (for me, that would be Zissou and The Royal Tenenbaums), it repeats Anderson's signature motifs with enough emotional variation to keep things interesting. A first-love story about two twelve-year old runaways, an orphaned boy scout named Sam (Jared Gilman) and his artsy suicidal crush Suzy (Kara Hayward, playing a girl who is in some ways a younger version of Gwyneth Paltrow's character in Tenenbaums), Anderson's film is also equally about the adult disappointments of the parents and authority figures who go chasing after them on New Penzance Island. The first hour of the movie is a slow build, constructed on Anderson's usual deft attention to quietly powerful affective moments. Bill Murray (as expected) and Bruce Willis (as, perhaps, not expected) are responsible for the most memorable of them (although the most engaging adult presence might be Bob Balaban as the unnamed narrator).

The best stretch is the final act (I finally and fully connected with Moonrise Kingdom when Jason Schwartzman made his first appearance), a moving and exciting blend of action that is reminiscent of the action setpieces in The Life Aquatic. These scenes, and indeed the entire film, are full of some of Robert Yeoman's most memorable and striking frames, but the movie also contains several dolly shots that clue us into the ways Anderson's characters attempt to escape from the minutely detailed worlds they've created for themselves. (This is also signaled by scenes in which characters shed the shackles of their costumes, always a key sign of the identity of Anderson characters. When Sam and Suzy strip to their skivvies in the middle of their escape, it's a sign of both freedom but also the inevitable march toward adulthood: eventually, they're going to have to put their clothes on again). The soundtrack is, as usual, full of little delights: front and center is Benjamin Britten's "The Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra," which provides a sonic metaphor for Anderson's own subtle variations on his familiar auteur themes.

This is the most melancholy entry in his filmography, ultimately: once and for all in Anderson, there is no going back to those lost worlds of childhood, and the community built in their place (always present at the end of every Anderson film) has never felt more tentative, or sadder, than it does here.