|A scene from Moonrise Kingdom.|
By Don Simpson
Benjamin Britten’s 1947 recording “The Young Person‘s Guide to the Orchestra, Op. 34 (Themes A-F)” introduces us to the two distinct family units of Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom. First up is the Bishop family. Walt (Bill Murray) and Sandy Bishop (Frances McDormand) reside in an idyllic East Coast frame house -- yes, there is even a lighthouse -- with their children. One of their kids is Suzy (Kara Hayward), a precocious 12-year-old who is perpetually outfitted in a minidress, knee socks and Sunday-school shoes. The other family is much less traditional, they are a Khaki Scouts unit led by Scoutmaster Ward (Edward Norton) stationed at Camp Ivanhoe. The scout we are most concerned with is Sam (Jared Gilman), a 12-year-old orphan.
As Britten’s song suggests, individual instruments come together to form an orchestra. Anderson’s albeit heavy-handed audio-visual metaphor expresses how his characters -- who are initially introduced each in their own private space -- will eventually need to develop into a cohesive community to succeed. The problem is, two of the instruments of this tale (Suzy and Sam) consider themselves to be outcasts of their respective communities. Like prima donna musicians, they decide to go solo for a while. Well, okay, more like a duet; because it turns out that Suzy and Sam are pen pals and have been planning to run away together.
At a fateful moment of the narrative, Sam asks Suzy what kind of bird she is. Well, Suzy is the kind of bird who totes around a portable battery-powered record player in order to listen to her seven-inch of Françoise Hardy's "Le Temps De L’amour." She has a penchant for young adult fantasy novels, especially ones with a strong female lead and she prefers to have a bird’s-eye view of the world via her ever-present binoculars.
Sam’s personality traits and skills from being a Khaki Scout prove to be much more practical than Suzy’s in terms of wilderness survival, especially his knowledge of cartography. Nonetheless, there is never any doubt that Suzy and Sam’s excursion is only temporary. They are trapped on the small New England island of New Penzance -- and according to the film’s all-knowing narrator (Bob Balaban) a nasty hurricane is heading their way. The modest utopia that Suzy and Sam create at "Mile 3.25 Tidal Inlet" will soon be washed away into oblivion. Also, it seems as though the entire population of New Penzance is on the hunt for the 12-year-old runaways. The eventual coalescence of search parties is like a tidal wave that they are unable to out maneuver.
Lovers of Anderson’s uniquely kitschy aesthetic will more than likely adore the oh-so-precious cuteness of Moonrise Kingdom. What is not to love? Well, okay, Anderson’s films may not always have strong narratives -- he also has a knack for creating one-dimensional characters -- but there is no doubt that he possesses a keen ability to create wonderfully imaginative worlds. His films are hyperstylized and hyper-nostalgic (Moonrise Kingdom is set in early September 1965) fairy tales, like children or young adult stories that are crafted in such a way to appeal to adults. The parable-like tales are filled with minutely-outfitted, doll-like people who reside in dollhouse-like structures. Their actions are choreographed to soundtracks that appeal to the likes of hipster-music geeks.
While I respect Moonrise Kingdom’s commentary on the importance of acceptance and camaraderie in developing a society, I have grown quite weary of Anderson’s tendency to rely upon a rigid three-act structure which always seems to conclude with a huge climactic event that brings all of the players together. Anderson’s unabashed love for mapping, scheming and chasing -- though quirky and entertaining -- is also beginning to frustrate me. I keep hoping that he will add more complexity and depth to his films, but I am beginning to realize that will probably never happen. While I do not hesitate to admit that Anderson is great at what he does, he is clearly operating within his comfort zone. It is very difficult to ignore that practically everything and everyone in Moonrise Kingdom is recycled from one of Anderson’s previous films.