I own every single one of his movies, watch The Royal Tenenbaums or The Darjeeling Limited on a biweekly basis, and I’ve tried to talk my friends into dressing up as Team Zissou for more Halloweens than I’d care to admit, so as you can see, I’m a big—big—Wes Anderson fan. I think that his meticulous creativity makes him a valuable gem in modern filmmaking. I love that he creates smart, quirky, painfully human characters and gives them beautifully constructed, deliberate worlds to live in, and wish that more filmmakers followed his lead when it comes to immersing themselves in their projects so passionately and completely, and when it comes to casting them so well to boot.
Unfortunately, Moonrise Kingdom, his first film since 2009’s Fantastic Mr. Fox, isn’t exactly another classic for the canon.
It’s a satisfying gallop that hits every Patented Anderson Flick Requirement—charming details, dry, dark humor, and tableaus so thought out they’re practically breathing illustrations—but Kingdom barely reaches expectations and certainly fails to go beyond them.
Set on a fictional island off the shores of New England somewhere, Kingdom starts with the hunt for a missing Khaki Scout named Sam (Jared Gilman) who stole a tiny canoe and left camp in the middle of the night. Meanwhile, Suzy (Kara Hayward), his pen pal and the disgruntled, moody child of bitter, should-be-split lawyer parents up island, disappears as well, lugging a suitcase full of sci-fi books, her kitten, and a pair of binoculars. The two run away together, and the adults they left behind—Suzy’s parents (played delightfully by Bill Murray and Frances McDormand), Khaki Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton), and the slow-talking Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis), spend the rest of the movie trying to find the kids, finding them, trying to keep them apart, and then failing to do so.
It’s adorable and the brilliant cast (Bill Murray in madras?! Come on!) carries the sharp dialogue beautifully through its numerous adventures, but Kingdom is so completely predictable and safe that you’re left feeling merely satisfied at the end of it—which is hardly the way one should feel at the end of an Anderson jaunt.
I will say that the risk in taking a pre-pubescent love/discovery story and running it alongside a slew of unfortunate adult communication failures was one that paid off, in that one can glean messages of acceptance and tolerance and all that feel-good crap from Kingdom in terms both teenagers and their parents can understand. Maybe this is where Kingdom differs from Rushmore or The Life Aquatic or other Anderson stories: we can identify with the solitude and alienation these runaways feel, as opposed to comparing ourselves to their weird lives and finding enlightenment in the fact that we’ll never grieve the loss of a parent on an Indian expedition or be a suicidal former tennis pro.
Still, save for standout performances from Murray, McDormand, and Norton and an exceptional debut from Hayward, Moonrise Kingdom is good—and could’ve been great, had it lived up to the excellent standards its creator previously established.
RATED | R
OPENS | 6.1.12