Day 133: Moonrise Kingdom

"The nickels are my fee."

Wes Anderson has as many admirers as he does detractors. I've been an avid admirer since Rushmore, which for many years was my favorite film. His detractors have leveled many complaints at his films, that they're overly stylized, twee, and they favor style over content. I have always been able to overlook the two former complaints because the third has been unfounded... until now.

From virtually the moment it begins, Moonrise Kingdom is so busy and stuffed with minutiae that there's virtually no room left for anything else. The film tells the story of two "lovable" outsiders, Sam & Suzy (newcomers Jared Gilman & Kara Hayward) who run away from scout camp & family respectively, to live together in the wilderness of the fictional New Penzance Island.

Sam's scout troop, led by Scout Master Randy Ward (a woefully misused Edward Norton), forms a search party, and when Suzy's parents (Bill Murray & Frances McDormand) realize that she's run away with Sam, they join in the search. The local police force in charge of the search consists solely of Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis) who is having an affair with Suzy's mother for no discernible reason other than it adds a level of hypocrisy to her relationship with her husband and daughter.

The main problem that I had with the film is that all of the characters do things for seemingly no other reason than Anderson & co-writer Roman Coppola seem to think that quirks are a substitute for actual character development. Some examples of this are: Suzy's mother speaks with a megaphone at times even though she's a lawyer and not a gym teacher; Sam, in addition to having advanced survival skills, is also an accomplished painter; Suzy's father gets drunk and tries to chop down a tree; the scout troopers build an unsafe treehouse on a flagpole; one of the scout troopers has an eyepatch.

The Wes Anderson of old didn't just layer on quirks for no good reason. Max Fisher, for example, runs so many clubs at Rushmore because he's good at a lot of things and a master of nothing. Royal Tenenbaum is an asshole because he's never had a reason to rely on others for love and support. Even Steve Zissou lies, steals and threatens because he doesn't understand the virtue of a real relationship. Their actions are clearly motivated by their character traits. Here, characters just do things because they seem like a substitute for actually taking the time to be developed.

The performances from all the veteran actors aren't bad, but they're not especially memorable either. I would wager to say that Willis is probably the only stand-out here, if for no other reason than he's playing a role we're just not used to seeing him play. I really and truly hate to sound like a jerk here, but the two main child actors are terrible. Gilman mumbles all of his lines & half the time sounds like he has no idea what he's talking about. Hayward, although she looks like a young Zooey Deschanel, is completely devoid of charisma, and her line readings all fall flat. Contrast them with Dirk in Rushmore, Ari & Uzi in Royal Tenenbaums or Anthony's sister in Bottle Rocket, and they are some of the poorest child casting decisions Anderson has ever made.

Jason Schwartzman's appearance late in the film seems to serve no other purpose than to remind us of how good child actors in Anderson films can be. He's the one bright spot in an otherwise humorless and dour film. There was no joy on display here. All the adults were miserable. All of the children were either elitist little jerks or so riddled qith quirks, I couldn't cut through them to figure out what their true motives were for doing anything. I can only hope this was a diversion to an island for Wes Anderson, because he was as lost in the wilderness as his characters.

I was so thoroughly disappointed by the fact that none of these characters in this story seemed to truly want anything. All of their wants seemed to be driven by servicing a plot point rather than being born out of a genuine desire to achieve or grow as people. This film is the equivalent of low-hanging fruit for Wes Anderson haters, and while one film is not about to change my mind about him, I will most certainly approach his next project with apprehension.

While watching this film, I couldn't help but hear Royal Tenenbaum's criticism of his adopted daughter Margot's play ringing in the back of my head: "What characters? It was a bunch of little kids dressed up in animal costumes."

PopGO Rating: 1.5/5

[Photos via BoxOfficeMojo]