Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Moonrise Kingdom: Enjoy the Quirkiness

Moonrise Kingdom  is another one of those quirky Wes Anderson films with a characteristically  wonderful production design and brilliant cinematography. I especially like the tableau-like shots with such rich, detailed mise-en-scene, including the outdoor scenes. The self-reflexive opening moving tableau sequence is notable, and of course one could linger on the mise-en-scene details of the St. Jack church sequences for at least an hour.  (I’ll do just that once the blu-ray comes out.)  If Anderson is anything, he is a consummate visual storyteller, maximizing film as film whenever he can. It is in this context that our primary engagement with the film should take place.

And of course that trademark slightly off-kilter "reality" - it's not surreal, it's not hyper-real, and it's not fantasy -  is rendered superbly here through Anderson's co-written script but with self-referential allusions to all three modes through the books Suzy reads and the "variations" and “increments” themes in the music played at the Bishops’ house.  In some ways, the film is about the desire to fantasize, the desire to dream, the desire to mythologize, and of course one of our deepest, unconscious urges is to mythologize the past including our personal past - which can frequently lead to nostalgia, in either a fantasy or mythic mode. As I've suggested, this film isn't exactly either, though it could be accused of such, especially because of the romanticizing of 60’s technology and an America that never was and could never be on a fantasy island off the coast of Maine.  In this context,  a serious weakness in an otherwise interesting film is the historicizing narrator functioning like a voice-over, which is an attempt to elevate story self-consciously to the status of myth. It simply is unnecessary as a framing device.  We can mythologise and historicize on our own if we must.

But, as always, despite the self-indulgent auteurism, what redeems Moonrise Kingdom,  as all Anderson’s films, is Anderson's intriguing story-telling mode:   it's "unreal" but “real” enough to be accessible  in terms of storyline, character, and thematic content. The viewer can thus both identify with and distance herself from story and character, both enter into story and simultaneously aestheticize that experience through a massaged recognition of both narrative and filmic technique.  In fact, you really can’t process the film without doing both.

As always in an Anderson film, casting is uncanny. Notable are the cameos from Tilda Swinton, Harvey Keitel, and Jason Swartzman. Both Ed Norton and Bruce Willis surprised me with their nuanced  performances,and both Frances McDormand and Bill Murray were their usual quirky selves. No stretch for these two. Most intriguing, however, were the two young leads, Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward, who were called upon to do what Anderson would ask of his adult actors - believable eccentricity, realistic quirkiness - no easy task for any actor lacking experience, young or old, but they do pull it off.

A film worth playing with and lingering over.

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