“Poetry doesn’t have to rhyme, you know. It just has to be creative.”
This might be a cliché, but I’m really curious as to what goes on inside Wes Anderson’s head. Ever since his first great movie Rushmore (I liked Bottle Rocket fine, but calling it great would be a stretch), he’s been consistently bewildering. His films have visual flair to spare, with whimsy and heart, and an often odd bitter streak. Anderson’s long been one of my favorite modern directors, but I’ve sold him short, it would seem. I can’t imagine the precarious balance of talent, melancholy and madness needed to make Moonrise Kingdom, but I also don’t need to. His methods were merely means to an end; this is a perfect goddamn movie.
I don’t say that word lightly. In fact, I can count only nine other movies I’d consider “perfect.” But Kingdom is a work of such sheer brilliance and vision. Co-star Bill Murray said of Anderson that “many people have ambition, but few have the talent to match it.” Aptly put.
I’ll provide a plot synopsis, though little is necessary. 12-year-old Khaki Scout Sam (Jared Gilman) decides to run away from his tent one day. Joining him is Suzy (Kara Hayward). She’s the same age as Sam, and she lives in a home that looks like a lighthouse out of a storybook. She becomes depressed when she finds a book called “Coping With The Troubled Child” on top of her refrigerator. When the two embark on a journey to who-knows-where, local authorities and parents try to track them down. It’s set in the mid-60s, but it might as well not be.
The plot sounds almost out of an inspirational novel given to 5th graders for an english class, but it’s more layered than that. Anderson has a Kubrick-like control of the camera (though, with this movie, I think he’s surpassed Kubrick on that front by a large margin) that is always in service of emotion, rather than a lack thereof. The script, which Anderson wrote with Roman Coppola, is a testament to doing much with little. Every line of dialogue feels purposeful, dramatically or comically. There’s a healthy dose of each.
The veteran cast handles the material ably, but the real stars are Gilman and Hayward, who manage to perfectly capture the whimsy, confusion, and general awkwardness of romance between 12-year-olds. Their extended scenes sitting, talking and dancing in a cove features some of the best child acting you’re likely to ever see.
The whole things barrels toward a climax that left my jaw hanging. It’s equal parts musical and beautiful; shocking and scary. It’s the kind of chaos Anderson’s never attempted, and the result is some of the most daring and successful film-making of the 21st century. I’m almost speechless at how to describe it, but I will say that as someone who’s prided himself on never once crying during a movie, I got a little wispy by the time the credits rolled.
This is Anderson’s masterpiece. A film that features all of his strengths, magnified, and all of his weaknesses, non-existent. In a stroke of almost unnoticeable brilliance, the young lovers only refer to each other by their first names, whilst the frenzied adults call each other by their professions. It’s a touch that contrasts the blissful ignorance of youth with the bitter ignorance of adulthood. It’s not a mistake that these 12-year-olds, each deemed violent or emotionally unstable, are in fact the smartest people in the whole movie.
From its funny but deeply felt script, to its controlled direction and beautiful color pallete, I can find no reason (and I’ve tried), to deem Moonrise Kingdom anything other than perfect. Anderson may as well stop trying altogether. This is the top.