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Movie Review: Moonrise Kingdom

Wes Anderson has been making movies since the mid-90’s, and his style has pretty much stayed the same. A lot of critics count that against him, but I say if something works, stick with it. He was starting to waiver a bit with his last two live-action films, “The Life Aquatic” and “The Darjeeling Limited,” but made a huge turn-around with “The Fantastic Mr. Fox.”

For those of you who don’t know Wes Anderson’s work, he is probably most famous for “The Royal Tennenbaums,” which also happens to be his best movie. About a family of child geniuses who grow up to be depressed and unfulfilled, the movie featured Gene Hackman at his comedic best, and a cast that also included Bill Murray (in most of Anderson’s films), Ben Stiller, Gwenyth Paltrow, Owen Wilson, Luke Wilson, and others. It was sad, funny, and brilliant.

Prior to Tennenbaums, Anderson had made Rushmore, which landed Bill Murray his first academy award nomination, and introduced Jason Schwartzman to the movie scene. His first movie, Bottle Rocket, introduced us to the Wilson brothers (Owen and Luke) and showed only glimpses of Anderson’s greatness. After Tennenbaums, Anderson lost his writing partner Owen Wilson due to Wilson’s growing acting career, and I think that hurt the quality of his next two films. The Life Aquatic had it’s moments, but overall didn’t have much impact and was a disappointment to most. The Darjeeling Limited was better, a bit more serious, but still not up to par for a Wes Anderson film.

Darjeeling featured Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, and Adrian Broudy as brothers on a journey through India as they try and reconnect and find themselves. Like most Anderson films, it can be depressing at times, but, unlike Tennenbaums, I didn’t care or know enough about the characters for it to have a big emotional impact. I like the movie, but again, not as much as I loved Tennenbaums and Rushmore. It was starting to feel like Anderson’s unique style was losing it’s luster, and maybe it was time for him to try something different.

The Fantastic Mr. Fox was, in my opinion, a bit of a comeback for Anderson, but also something completely different, as it was animated and a kid’s movie (although I don’t know how much kids would really like it). George Clooney voiced the role of Mr. Fox (I’d really like to see him a live-action Wes Anderson film someday – he’d be perfect), and was a lot of fun.

Like Woody Allen, Wes Anderson has a unique style that, for the most part, he sticks to and his fans love it. His dialogue and visuals are recognizable, to the point that even if you didn’t know you were watching a Wes Anderson movie, you’d figure it out pretty quick (if for no other reason than the fact that he uses the same actors in a lot of his movies). His characters are usually trapped in some kind of youthful fantasy world and are living in their own heads, apart from the rest of society. They want people to like them, but they also want to be different and stand apart. His humor, however, is what really makes his movies worth watching. His characters usually take themselves too seriously, which makes Moonrise Kingdom’s Sam Shecowsky a perfect fit for the Wes Anderson universe.

I’ve seen Moonrise Kingdom twice, and while it didn’t have the same impact the second time, I loved it. It has elements of a classic Disney film, like Swiss Family Robinson, but with much deeper themes, and much funnier. Sam is an orphan in foster care and a member of the Khaki Scouts, led be Edward Norton (right at home in his first Wes Anderson movie). Suzy is the daughter of Bill Murray and Frances McDormand (also her first Anderson film, and I felt like she was under-used here). Sam and Suzy fall in love and decide to run away together. Sam escapes, rows his boat for a couple of days, meets Suzy in the field and they begin their journey into the mountains together. Like all of Anderson’s movies, Moonrise Kingdom has a fair-tale feel. The characters are all in the same outfits throughout, like a play or a cartoon. Everything feels artificial, in its own world.

What makes the movie great, apart from some hilarious moments, is the love story. It is sweet, funny, and moving. I don’t know how Anderson manages to make movies that look at feel so fake, yet hit so close to home, but I hope he keeps doing it because it’s working.

Grade: A-

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