Wes Anderson's newest is not quite a masterpiece, but it's too good to fail
According to everyone at Cannes (and your friends who have already seen it in New York) Moonrise Kingdom is the best work Wes Anderson has done since The Royal Tennenbaums. The reputation far precedes the film, so you’d imagine it would be bound to disappoint. But it does so only slightly for this Anderson fan.
There isn’t a truly redemptive moment — one that floors you with an unexpected sucker punch of substance — but the director’s affection for his characters is engrossing, the performances of his two child leads heartbreakingly apt.
Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward) are hopelessly in love and at odds with the world around them. Labeled “troubled” by clueless adults and sneering peers, the two characters embark on an adventure to escape unwarranted reputations and build a home for themselves in the wild. In response, Anderson’s adults reveal gross incompetence. Forced to focus on children they had heretofore been content to call hopeless, these grownups materialize as the basis for the children’s problems.
The film reads like a Wes Anderson bingo sheet. The twee costumes, quirky characters, and warm color palette are all here, as is Anderson’s idiosyncratic sense of humor. While it’s delightful to see these elements employed usefully once again, such repetition raises the question of whether Anderson has perfected an aesthetic that behooves his storytelling or if he has simply failed to progress much as an artist. Highly particular to its fictionalized setting, the film could have just as believably been released in between Rushmore and Tennenbaums, almost a decade ago.
But then again, there is no denying that Moonrise Kingdom is a lovely addition to these slightly superior films. In maintaing his characteristic form, Anderson gestures in acknowledgment towards his fans, consistent in the face of criticism (most of which has centered around his reluctance to adapt). Certainly, the performances he is able to coax from Gilman and Hayward elevate the film to a much more than a signifier. Without these, it would be hard to say that Kingdom strikes the magic balance between style and substance; however with them, there is no question that Anderson succeeds at least in part.
Too similar to his previous works, and without consistent investment in the ensemble cast, Moonrise Kingdom isn’t quite the masterpiece you might be expecting from what you’ve heard. But it is a reassurance that Anderson knows his audience and hasn’t lost his potential for greatness. If all of the praise is actually a subtle pat on the back, a nudge in the right direction for Anderson, then it’s just as well. As surely as it satisfies, Moonrise Kingdom whets the appetite for a more ambitious second course.