|Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman in Moonrise Kingdom|
Having just finished teaching a course on the great American cinema of the ‘70s, and spending weeks immersed in fine films by directors at their creative peaks (Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola, Brian De Palma, Hal Ashby, Martin Scorsese, Robert Altman and many others), it was something of a rude jolt to be brought back to earth having to deal with the generally underwhelming current crop of American directors. While Spielberg, De Palma and Scorsese are still around and often doing good work – creatively Coppola is missing in action – there are only a handful of relevant moviemakers (David Fincher, Curtis Hanson) from the next generation who make movies that speak to the way we live today. And when you’ve tasted the highs of The Godfather, Taxi Driver, Nashville or Shampoo, why would you want to make time for the enervated films of Kelly Reichardt (Old Joy, Meek’s Cutoff), the scattershot ones of Paul Thomas Anderson (Magnolia, There Will Be Blood) or the contemptuous movies of Todd Solondz (Welcome to the Dollhouse, Life During Wartime)? But of all the annoying/irritating minor talents being unduly praised to the skies, usually only by certain film critics, none is likely more of a chore to sit through than Wes Anderson. His latest movie, Moonrise Kingdom, is really more of the same: a hermetic, arid, mindless film that defies you to truly care about anything that’s happening on screen.
If you had to pick one word to define his films, such as Rushmore (1998), The Royal Tanenbaums (2001) and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004), it would be precious. Not in the very valuable meaning of the word, but in the affectedly dainty or over-refined definition. With the exception of his debut movie, the sweet, likeable Bottle Rocket (1996), Anderson’s films are enshrined baubles that may look pretty – he doesn’t stint on the art direction – but beyond surface appearances have little of value on offer.
|Filmmaker Wes Anderson|
In a nutshell, Moonrise Kingdom, which was co-written by Anderson and Roman Coppola, is vapid and moronic. The adults are idiots; the kids precociously, but not believably, wise; and the world Anderson likes to portray is unrecognizable. People do not speak or behave in any believable manner in his films – they’re laconic to a ridiculous degree – and are prone to reading magazines called Indian Corn or belonging to groups like The Khaki Scouts of North America, titles which are meant to be ironic commentaries but which only betray Anderon's undue fondness for obvious quirky jokes that go nowhere at all. This emperor really has no clothes.
In any case, Anderson displays such a heavy hand with his ‘comedy’ that he clearly displays no trust in his audience’s intelligence. The movie is rife with metaphor alerts, none more so than when a devastating flood – with shades of the raining frogs in P. T. Anderson’s equally atrocious Magnolia – comes along to cleanse the dirty adult world of its sins and vices, ones that threaten the ‘pristine’ innocent (there’s that word again) haven, called Moonrise Kingdom, where Sam and Suzy hide out. That metaphor first makes its appearance when the kids meet while performing in Noyes Fluddle (Noah’s Flood), Benjamin Britten’s expansive 1957 opera, an implausible, to say the least, production to emanate from conservative small-town America. But if movies could be washed away by floods, I’d certainly pick this one to go under the waves. (Usually Anderson’s inventive, wide-ranging soundtracks are the only good thing about his films, but this one, heavy on the Britten and Hank Williams with contributions from Mozart, Schubert and Saint-Saens, is decidedly weak.) Another obvious signpost for the illiterate or simple-minded filmgoer is naming the house where Suzy lives Summer’s End – wow that’s deep! – yet another belaboring of the lost innocence theme.
The problem with all this is that so many people buy into this claptrap – I’m not surprised the critical establishment has fallen for Anderson’s bunk, they’ve long since shown a willingness to accept any ‘vision’ from a filmmaker they deem original, such as Terence Malick’s The Tree of Life, even if the movie or moviemaker isn’t any good – but so many younger film buffs love Anderson, too. Likely they feel they can relate to Anderson’s self-consciously clever and ironic tone poems – (it’s also why the glib Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is popular with that demographic) – but it may also be because they don’t have any true appreciation for film history, or for really gifted and deep filmmakers, such as the ones mentioned at the start, who made movies with substance and heft and imagination.
|Judi Dench and Celia Imrie in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel|
Perhaps Moonrise Kingdom should have had another name. The one it has now promises something magical, but the movie, though ostensibly set in Rhode Island, ought really be labeled as a product (and that’s the right adjective for this movie) Made in Andersonville, an inhospitable, dreary and empty island where time flows very slowly and where nothing meaningful or memorable ever happens. It’s not to my taste, nor maybe yours, but so many visitors love the place. To each his own, but the funny, truly ironic thing is that the Wikipedia bio on Anderson lists his formative cinematic influences as Francois Truffaut (The 400 Blows), Louis Malle (Lacombe Lucien), Satyajit Ray (The Apu Trilogy), John Huston (The Treasure of the Sierra Madre), Orson Welles (Citizen Kane) and Hal Ashby (The Last Detail), directors whose best work is the complete opposite of what Anderson churns out: humane, thoughtful, touching and deeply felt films about real people. I’d recommend you try any number of films by these filmmakers instead of Anderson’s latest opus, but I’d also suggest he might take a look at those moviemakers again. Maybe this time he’ll actually learn something from them and in the future spare us the types of movies he’s built his career on. We can only hope.