‘Moonrise Kingdom’ — neither ‘stupid nor offensive,” but also not enchanting

By Eleanor Ringel Cater

So there I sat at “Moonrise Kingdom.”

Waiting for the enchantment to kick in.

After all, that’s what I had been promised by an overwhelming number of movie reviewers filing from Cannes earlier this spring.

Well, it never did.

Wes Anderson, whose earlier works include the excellent stop-motion film, “ Fantastic Mr. Fox,” the abhorrent “Rushmore” and the somewhere-in-between “The Royal Tennenbaums,” is an exceedingly mannered filmmaker.

However, I don’t think that makes him an acquired taste. What he’s about is always quite clear; it’s mostly a matter of whether what he’s about intrigues you or not.

“Moonrise Kingdom” is about a pair of adolescents who are in love and run off together. That they live on a mythical New England-y island named New Penzance is vintage Anderson. So is the meticulously re-created 1965 in which they live. It’s an “alternate reality” worthy of a graphic novel, with Francoise Hardy albums, plastic portable record players, overdue library books and a well-trained troop of Khaki Scouts (This is not the sort of picture the Boy Scouts would wholeheartedly endorse).

Our hero is Sam (Jared Gilman), a bespectacled orphan who runs away from his Khaki Scout Camp, to the concern and consternation of his Khaki Scout leader, Edward Norton.

Our other hero (heroine is going out of vogue, I’ve learned recently) is Suzy (Kara Hayward), a gravely beautiful girl who runs away from her summer cottage, much to the consternation and concern of her parents (Frances McDormand and Bill Murray), both attorneys.

Note to Anderson: a female attorney in 1965 — especially a married one — is about as fanciful as an island named New Penzance.

Anyway, having been pen pals long enough to hatch a plan, Suzy and Sam take off for the island’s wilder side, pursued by her family, his Scout troop and a likable local sheriff (Bruce Willis).

What they don’t know (but we do, having been told so by the narrator) is that the storm of the century is approaching. So there’s more at stake here than two crazy kids in love.

Intentionally or not — though it’s hard to imagine anything unintentional in an Anderson movie — their magical sojourn recalls that of Sissy Spacek and Martin Sheen in Terrence Malick’s “Badlands” (intentional, I’m just about certain, because Anderson also uses music from Saint Saens)

As we wait for this Magic Kingdom to meet the Perfect Storm, Anderson intends us to be amused by his deadpan dialogue (co-written with Roman Coppola), ironic touches, off-hand homages (Sam’s escape from his tent is pure “Shawshank Redemption”) and canary-yellow-kissed décor.

Yes, there’s something delicious about a wire-hair fox terrier named Snoopy (it’s 1965…) and Murray in madras pants and the way McDormand delivers a line like, “Suzy, why is everything so hard for you?”

But mostly, I was restless, waiting, wondering about the cheap shot of Murray and McDormand in twin beds (that was TV in 1965…say Rob and Laura in “The Dick Van Dyke Show”).

At the same time, there are glorious exchanges….”Stop feeling sorry for yourself.” “Why?”

Willis probably comes off best. Somehow, he locates the sweetness and gravitas in his bachelor lawman. The kids are likable, too, though I’m not sure why I’m supposed to fall in love with their falling in love.

Visually, Anderson has a miniaturist’s meticulous eye. The film looks absolutely fabulous. But, like many miniaturist works, from dollhouses to bonsai trees, “Moonrise Kingdom” seems to have lost its sense of the bigger picture.

I can say this about “Moonrise Kingdom” — I was in a better mood when I came out than when I came in. The movie is neither stupid nor offensive, which puts it ahead of a lot of pictures.

But I was still perplexed. And, let’s face it, disappointed.

Eleanor Ringel, Movie Critic, was the film critic for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for almost 30 years. She was nominated multiple times for a Pulitzer Prize. She won the Best of Cox Critic, IMAGE Film & Video and Women In Film awards. An Atlanta native, she graduated from Westminster and Brown University. She was the critic on WXIA’s Noonday, a member of Entertainment Weekly's Critics Grid and wrote TV Guide’s movie/DVD. She is member of the National Society of Film Critics and currently talks about movies on WMLB and writes the Time Out column for the Atlanta Business Chronicle.

3 replies
  1. Frank says:

    You lost me at “abhorrent ‘Rushmore'” Eleanor.  I loved that movie, so I’ll probably like this one, too.  My favorite was “The Darjeeling Limited”.  If I’m not enchanted, it’s your fault for planting doubts. 🙂Report

  2. Thiti says:

    Felt a great deal of Badlands influence there (it was one of my favourite films), was disappointed too though.
    Moonrise Kingdom could be cute in a way,  but I detest watching a montage of dry humours and characters.
    Personally, I’ve never seen any of Wes Anderson’s films before, I might have to spare some thoughts just yet.Report


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