Posted on Wednesday, May 16th, 2012 by Angie Han
Wes Anderson fans eagerly awaiting Moonrise Kingdom — his first directorial effort since 2009’s Fantastic Mr. Fox, and his first live-action feature since 2007’s The Darjeeling Limited — can officially banish any worries that the hipster-prep auteur has lost his touch. Following the film’s world premiere at Cannes, the vast majority of reviews have been somewhere between “mostly positive” and “utterly glowing.” As with any movie, there are the occasional naysayers, but even the less enamored seem to agree that Anderson diehards will find the filmmaker doing exactly what he does best here.
Co-written by Anderson and Roman Coppola, Moonrise Kingdom follows the chaos that erupts in a sleepy New England island town in the 1960s when two adolescents (Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward) decide to run away together. The top-shelf adult supporting cast includes Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand, and of course, Anderson staples Jason Schwartzman and Bill Murray. Read the early reactions after the jump.
If you’ve seen the trailer or any of the marketing materials, it’ll come as no surprise that one aspect everyone agreed upon was the film’s Wes Anderson-iness. As always, however, some reviewers tended to like his schtick more than others. Coming Soon, who wrote one of the rare out-and-out negative reviews, wondered if Moonrise Kingdom had anything to it but its essential Wes Anderson style:
Who knows whether Anderson is so aware his fans expect certain sensibilities he feels the need to play up to them constantly or if he really thinks this is what movie audiences want to see, but he’ll always have plenty of A-list enablers on board to help do whatever he wants.[…] He throws so much non-sensical stuff at the weaker-than-normal script, trying to make any of it stick, that “Moonrise Kingdom” feels like a giant waste of money and a caché of squandered talent.
Even out of those who generally liked the movie, a few others wondered if Moonrise Kingdom would appeal to anyone outside the core audience of Anderson lovers. From Indiewire‘s B+ reaction:
There are diehard Wes Anderson fans and then there’s everyone else. “Moonrise Kingdom,” the idiosyncratic auteur’s seventh feature, eagerly pitches itself toward that first group of audiences and ignores the rest. But if those open to Anderson quirks will find a rewarding experience littered with warmth and playful humor.
This is a Wes Anderson film — more lightweight than some, possessing a stronger emotional undertow than others — that will strike the uninitiated as conspicuously arch.
THR wasn’t the only outlet who felt Moonrise Kingdom was a bit slight. The Guardian, which gave it four out of five stars, said:
It was a very charming, beautifully wrought, if somehow depthless film — eccentric but heartfelt, and thought through to the tiniest, quirkiest detail in the classic Anderson style.
But some critics found themselves liking despite being iffy on Anderson in general. Here’s Screen Daily:
Those who have complained that Anderson makes the exact same twee, precious, mannered deadpan comedy every time out will have plenty here to further their argument, but this bittersweet bauble so confidently goes about its business that it’s difficult to deny that Anderson knows his milieu and how to dramatise it eloquently.
And The Atlantic:
Its moments of transporting beauty and visual brilliance overcame my growing aversion to Wes Anderson’s brand of ultra-stylized archness.[…] He’s still a filmmaker teetering dangerously on the brink of terminal tweeness, but Sam and Suzy bring out Anderson’s sincere side.
While no less twee than Wes Anderson’s earlier pictures, “Moonrise Kingdom” supplies a poignant metaphor for adolescence itself, in which a universally appealing tale of teenage romance cuts through the smug eccentricity and heightened artificiality with which Anderson has allowed himself to be pigeonholed.
A few critics emphasized the perfect fit between Anderson’s gentle, playful aesthetic and the kid-centric tale. Film School Rejects, in their A- review, wrote:
There is certainly an idea that Moonrise Kingdom is a kind of grown-up, or at least grown-out children’s book, which definitely helps explain the subtle magic-realist feel – like the most timeless of successful children’s books (and those which can be read by anyone) the story perfectly conveys how children see the world, while still retaining a sort of universally appealing dramatic element that appeals to the more adult of viewers.
Perhaps the most unusual take on Moonrise Kingdom‘s deployment of the signature Anderson style comes from The Playlist, who gave the movie an A:
There are signs — small ones, and easily missed — that Anderson is not only using his traditional M.O. here but also commenting on it and, perhaps, saying goodbye to it. (Suzy’s glance-to-camera in the final shot — a shot with a completely different grammar and language than the rest of the film — suggests that our characters are headed for a very different world in the months and years to come; it also suggests Anderson might be looking for new worlds to conquer.)
Interestingly, while the supporting roles are filled with A- and B-list stars, the two leads — Gilman and Hayward — were total unknowns. Responses to their first outing were generally favorable. Awards Daily was particularly impressed by the young performers:
Even with all of the parts of it that make it too conscious of itself, too drenched in sun-kissed nostalgia, at times irritatingly quirky — it works ultimately because Gilman and Hayward are so good. Somehow, these two pierced the surface of the Wes Anderson oeuvre and found the core of truth.
The reactions to the adult players, meanwhile, were more mixed. The consensus is that their roles were much smaller than those of the kids, and many, like The Hollywood Reporter, complained that “Most of the skilled adult actors don’t have much to play.” But others, like Rope of Silicon, felt that the adults were “up to the task.” Perhaps the grown-up who got the most praise was Bob Balaban, who narrates the tale.
We’ll end on a high note, with one of the most enthusiastic write-ups. HitFix thought Moonrise Kingdom was nothing short of Anderson “at his very best”:
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All in all, “Moonrise Kingdom” is one of those films that seems slight on the surface, but there’s so much emotion in it, so much genuine heartfelt observation, that I have a feeling it will grow the more I think about it, and that a second viewing will simply underline the feelings I have about it already.[…] He may make it look easy because of how firmly his mannerisms are established at this point, but it takes a real artist to evoke the rocky emotional storms of adolescence and adulthood with such clear eyes and precise voice. “Moonrise Kingdom” is the real deal.