I remember that long ago I was suggested by a friend of mine that I should watch Bottle Rocket. I was told that it would be something I would like. I valued the friend’s opinion who told me this so many years on I still recall the recommendation and I always thought that’s where I’d start watching Wes Anderson. Yet, I have yet to follow through on that recommendation. It’s hard to discern why specifically, but I can state equivocally that it was likely due in part to my still somewhat rebellious nature in film school. I’d overheard certain people and think “Oh, they like him too. Maybe not then.” Another reason that Moonrise Kingdom was my first film of his is Anderson seems to me a filmmaker you just have to watch. His tone, his voice, the worlds he crafts can’t easily be disseminated in 90 to 150 seconds. His sense of humor is a bit on the drier side and trailers are geared toward broadness. Mea culpas aside, which really wasn’t the point of this long intro, I didn’t come into Moonrise Kingdom with massive expectations that normally are placed upon one who has a fanbase or is the basis of auteur criticism. I was a relatively blank slate just there to see this film, not the new Wes Anderson, which is a different mindset.
The film is a pretty insular tale about Sam and Suzy, who are two outcasts in their own way who seem to be the only ones who understand one another, thus they conspire to run off together. The charm, heart and warm nature of the film are responsible for its soaring success through two acts. One of the few bits of information I went in knowing was that Anderson cited Truffaut’s Small Change as a major influence on this film and that shows in the tonality more than anything else but there is a bit of episodic narrative to it that does also, however, this is a bit more linear.
The story of both Sam and Suzy as they break free, find each other and how they first met and then became pen pals are the strength of the film. However, the chase and the externalization of their struggle to be together takes up much of the third act and is where the few stumbles the film does have occur. There are several chase sequences, the Hullaballoo escape, the field and all that occurs there. Some of it is just funny as it happens, some is minimally tonally necessary, but as a whole very little of it is vital. It’s a film that’s moving rather well with minimal encumbrances up to this point, and then it just gets a bit bogged down and the pace suffers a bit because of it. There’s a necessary resolution to all this waiting at the end of the rat race we know this, but all that intervenes just seems an inconvenience.
What the film does almost unerringly is create characters that are quirky and odd but they’re not reflexively so, and their obliviousness to the fact is what makes them ring true, not any one given action or tendency that they may have. The film, in good comedic tradition, does give many of the characters their own obsession that drives them to function as they do, and rounds out the supporting players like Scout Master Ward, Captain Sharp and Social Services. Similarly, the handling of the narrator, which for a time is a bit presentational, an aspect that removes danger and adds levity, also has a twist to it.
The comedy of the film is for the most part organic, which is very refreshing. All too often you find people delivering punch-lines and they know it, here it flows from the action and if it works it’s a bonus, if not no great loss.
Moonrise Kingdom, despite its somewhat slippery, treacherous conclusion, is a charming, delightful film, which will likely win over both Anderson devotees and new fans alike, speaking as someone who belongs to the former grouping.