Moonrise Kingdom reviewed by Armond White for CityArts

Wes Anderson Looks at Life Twice in Moonrise Kingdom

By Armond White

Will Anderson ever return to the blunt sexuality of the Hotel Chevalier overture to The Darjeeling Limited? His new film Moonrise Kingdom’s mannerist style suggests an adieu to childhood innocence. It’s a remarkable childhood memory (co-created with talented writer and filmmaker Roman Coppola) at the same time that it knowingly presents a sophisticated deconstruction of the idea of America’s prelapsarian innocence.

Moonrise Kingdom is titled for the idyll shared by two New England preteens-in-love, Suzy (Kara Hayward) and Sam (Jared Gilman). It’s the name they give an unchristened cove previously known by its map coordinates or the technical “Mile 3.25 Tidal Inlet.” Suzy and Sam are both 12-years-old but Anderson’s personalized vision makes their identities emerge affectionately: Suzy’s detached from her parents and three brothers, Sam’s an orphan isolated from the delinquents in his foster home and in his scout troop. They are typical Anderson protagonists which means nothing about them is typical.

Both Suzy and Sam’s intelligence arises from their self-conscious loneliness; part of their survival tactics–she reads books about girls in danger, he becomes an exemplary boy scout. Their shared paradise might not last into adulthood but instead of Stand By Me’s sappy view of adolescence, Anderson offers fine insight into their specific emotional qualities. Leaning toward fantasy, Anderson studies the depths of personality. Suzy and Sam are not sexualized like the Peter and Wendy in J.P. Hogan’s extraordinary 2003 Peter Pan. This is also a runaway’s story like Francois Ozon’s Criminal Lovers, a Hansel and Gretel tale mixing Night of the Hunter and They Lived By Night, but Anderson favors a chaste view of sexual precocity.

This delicate, eccentric sensibility of Anderson’s films (The Darjeeling Limited, The Royal Tenenbaums) confuses some people but his meticulous visualization of feeling and adolescent experience is what distinguishes his cinema. Childhood isn’t coddled in an excessive or nostalgic way; it provides a key to Anderson’s sense of basic human nature. The adults in Moonrise Kingdom–Suzy’s parents (Bill Murray, Frences McDorman), Sam’s Scoutmaster Ward (Edward Norton) and the local police captain Sharp (Bruce Willis)–display an older but similar weariness and dissatisfaction. Despite the farcical tone, no one is infantilized; all are seen compassionately. Norton’s weak chin and slight lisp personify the dweeb that is Anderson’s specialty. He’s not brilliant like the nerds Jason Schwartzman plays for Anderson; rather, he’s part of Moonrise Kingdom’s mundane, unjudged innocents.

Starting with Suzy’s brothers listening to Benjamin Britten’s 1947 recording “The Young Person‘s Guide to the Orchestra, Op. 34 (Themes A-F),” Anderson diagrams the basic social unit of family in a remarkable series of lateral pans through the Bishop family frame house, then through the campsite of Sam’s Kahaki Scouts unit at Camp Ivanhoe. The idea of musical variations serve Anderson’s method of describing social groups and human relations. Each character is introduced in their private rooms, personal worlds–individuals as part of a whole. If it looks just like the animated universe of Fantastic Mr. Fox, that’s Anderson’s affectionate point. But don’t underestimate his perspicacity. These white folks retracing the Indian trails of their habitat reveal a lot more about Americans’ connection to their history than Alexander Payne’s smug The Descendants.

Anderson acknowledges his self-aware pageantry (and dependence upon social ritual and public ritual) in a flashback to Suzy and Sam first meeting at a church performance of Britten’s opera Noye’s Fludd. It resembles a layered, cut-out Christmas card unfolding before our eyes. A rebuke to 3D gimmickry, it also makes imagination real in the same way of an Anderson tableau. There’s beaut when Suzy and Sam are on a misty beach with an olive-colored lantern on the left, yellow suitcase on the right, her saddle oxfords on left, a blue record player on right and a pair of binoculars in the foreground.

Binoculars, a familiar image from Anderson’s debut Bottle Rocket, symbolize his gift for seeing youth and adulthood simultaneously. This double vision makes Moonrise Kingdom odd and substantive.

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