Critics have touted Wes Anderson’s quirky comedy as THE art house triumph of the summer, but does it really deserve such lauding?
A lot of times, when you review a movie, you’re not only reviewing the film, but the theater and its surroundings, too. As good as a movie may be, the X-factor for any great movie going experience is a confluence of factors, a majority of which have absolutely noting to do with the actual film itself.
Occasionally, these outside variables take the form of current events. A good example, I suppose, would be the Aurora shootings - I honestly cannot imagine someone walking into “The Dark Knight Rises” and not having that embedded in the back of their skull during the screening. Another example would be “The Watch,” a film about a gaggle of heavily armed citizen guardsmen - a comedy that’s pretty hard to accept, considering not only the Colorado incident, but the Trayvon Martin shooting from earlier this year.
One’s mood, and even his or her company, clearly has an impact on how we interpret and assess the films we watch. For example, if you and your girlfriend just broke up, you probably wouldn’t enjoy “Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist” as much as the guy that just got to second base with his GF in the parking lot before the movie started. Similarly, being in a particularly rowdy audience can either heighten or diminish a film’s personal impact - audience interaction may be a positive for something like “The Raid: Redemption,” but it would probably ruin a showing of “Schindler’s List.”
I bring all of this stuff up, because the “art” of film criticism is so dependent on one’s perceptions of the externalities surrounding a film. No matter how isolated a viewing experience may be, there’s no such thing as movie watching in a vacuum; there’s always some sort of static between the filmgoer and the film itself, and how one keys into that static is often THE element that determines whether or not one finds a movie enjoyable or insufferable.
I caught “Moonrise Kingdom” - according to some, the hipster/art house crowd cinematic event of the summer - at Atlanta’s Midtown Art Cinema recently. Midtown Atlanta is pretty much ground zero for Atlanta’s “creative class” denizens, and the environs is equal proportions invigorating and annoying. You can score vegan ice cream and shop around a secondhand store with cutouts from Atlanta’s crappiest “alternative newspaper” taped to the windows. You can hang out with chain-smoking SCAD students, who brush elbows with 70 year old liberals at Indian cuisine hot-spots. People take their parents out to have cappuccinos at pseudo French-bistros, and broke-ass Georgia State kids try to impress their dates by spending upwards of ten dollars on rice bowl dishes at a fusion Japanese place adjacent to the theater. Alike when the octopus baby monster sodomized the giant alien bodybuilder guy at the end of “Prometheus,” the citizenry of Midtown Atlanta are these ungodly, hippie-yuppie xenomorphs that inspire equivalent feelings of awe and horror. And even now, I don’t know if I hate their guts with a fiery passion or fully embrace them as my one true kin.
You see, I have to go into this sort of stuff, because “Moonrise Kingdom” is a movie tailor-made for such an audience. I am convinced that Wes Anderson constructed the film using some sort of Google algorithm that collected every single kooky, kitschy thing that appealed to pretentious hipster dingle berries and molded all of it into what became this movie.
Admittedly, I’m not a fan of Anderson’s work. I really liked “The Royal Tenenbaums,” but “The Darjeeling Limited” or “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou?” That’s cool, I’d rather have a hedgehog take up residence in my prostrate instead. While I wasn’t necessarily the biggest fan of “Moonrise Kingdom,” I have to admit that I did enjoy the film for the most part - although towards the second half of the film, it completely deteriorates into hyper annoying abstractness for the sake of hyper annoying abstractness.
First, the good things about this film. Number one, the cast is downright excellent, from Ed Norton as a Boy Scout leader that takes his job absurdly seriously to Bruce Willis as a grizzled cop that feeds beer to 12 year olds to Bill Murray, who drifts through this movie so effortlessly it’s like he just wandered on to the set one day and they decided to keep all of his interruptions in the final print.
The film revolves around Sam and Suzy, two apparently troubled children that concoct a plan to runaway from their oppressive home lives and build their own personal wonderland on the shores of a nearby island. The kids here - Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward - do a really good job of carrying the film along, and in many ways, put on better performances than House of Coppola stalwarts like Jason Schwartzman and Tilda Swinton.
The first half of the movie is downright terrific, with the adults of the community trying - and mostly faltering - in their efforts to “rescue” Sam and Suzy. Ed Norton’s character deputizes several Boy Scouts to recover the children, which results in a downright amazing (and disturbing) scene in which Suzy stabs one of them with a pair of scissors. While the two are on the lam, it’s an utterly engrossing picture, and really one of the year’s most unique cinematic experiences.
And then, there’s the second half of the picture, where pretty much everything great that was established in the first act is done away with for a less-than-satisfying conclusion.
Eventually, Sam and Suzy manage to embark upon a second adventure - this time aided by several Boy Scouts, who feel the need to help them escape from the boring, tyrannical, adult-dictated world they are forced to live in. This ultimately leads to a second troupe of boy scouts chasing after them, and that’s when Anderson just calls it quits and begins throwing in as many goofy tricks as he can. Sam thwarts his would-be captors by getting zapped by lightning, Ed Norton’s character manages to reclaim his honor by saving his commander from an exploding log cabin (complete with intentionally-shitty-looking CGI flames), and the big dénouement has the kids about to leap from the steeple of a church, while a hurricane swells in the background.
You know, Anderson came VERY close to making this one of the year’s best pictures. If he had decided to keep the human drama of Suzy and Sam’s puppy romance going along instead of reverting to the usual wacky shenanigans, it really would’ve been a contender for best flick of the summer. The set design is terrific, the soundtrack isn’t too shabby, and the movie, as a whole, is quite well-acted; the problem is, the plotline takes a nosedive at the midway point, and it comes dangerously close to completely negating the tremendous first hour or so of the flick. (Also, the theater kind of smelled like pee, and there was this one guy standing in the back of the room holding a grocery bag for the first twenty minutes of the film that I was kind of afraid was going to go postal on us, so that may or may not negatively influenced my reception of the film, too.)
Critics love the movie, but I just kinda-sorta liked it. It is enjoyable, and there are some pretty funny parts, and if you go see it, you probably won’t hate yourself, but it is certainly not the quirky, artistic masterpiece that so many are proclaiming it to be. It’s a better than average flick in comparison to MOST of the season’s blockbusters, but if I had the option? I think you’d enjoy yourself a whole lot more if you just grabbed a pizza and saw “Beasts of the Southern Wild” again instead.
MY SCORE: B