Reel Matt

This blog started as my movie marathon — watching a movie a day for a whole year — and has continued as a place for me to write reviews about movies, TV, and various other items.

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Moonrise Kingdom

Film #262

THE PLOT

A pair of young lovers flee their New England town, which causes a local search party to fan out and find them.

Year 1, Day 261

BEFORE: A brief, one-day interlude to the end of the leftover chain, Moonrise Kingdom takes today’s slot in the marathon. It comes highly recommended and a with a promise of laughs (though not necessarily large guffaws). Of note, this is the first Wes Anderson film I’ve ever seen. Anderson has a reputation of having a very distinct style with films like The Royal Tenenbaums and The Fantastic Mr. Fox a part of his oeuvre. The inclusion of Bill Murray (last seen in Groundhog Day), Bruce Willis (last seen in Armageddon), and Edward Norton (last seen in Rounders) also give the film a good starting point going in.

AFTER: Film is a very interesting medium to tell stories in. It’s a visual canvas which can be used in many ways and after watching 262 films, patterns emerge. As different as most films seem, usually the visual look and structure of the story are based off a handful of different templates (because, you know, everything is a remix). Moonrise Kingdom was very different is many aspects, some of which I found refreshing but most of which I found odd and unfitting.

The IMDb summary above actually does a fairly good job at getting to the meat of the story: two young kids, Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) and Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward), are in love and run away together to explore the wilderness of the island they live on. But it’s not an action film, or a drama, or a comedy - which is what it’s classified as on IMDb - for that matter. It’s really like a film of its own; a combination of a bunch of genres and styles to create something that I’ve never seen before. Some of these things I think Wes Anderson does incredibly well. Most notable are the color choices and production design. The look of Camp Ivanhoe, the Bishop’s house, and the various locations scattered across the island; everything that shows up on screen is carefully created and the attention to detail is evident. Not a thing is out of place and it all helps create a feeling for this world. Color also plays a large part with the strong greens, browns, and yellows in a way muting the image (there isn’t a wide variety in the colors) but it also sticks out and emphasizes the film (because the colors are quite vibrant).

However, some parts I found to be just plain weird and abby normal. Things that easily come to mind are the cinematography and the dialogue. While I enjoyed the production design (what shows up in the frame) the cinematography (how the shots are composed - wide, close up, etc.) was not as good. Again, it was very atypical of what you normally see in films - many of which rely on standard techniques and conventional shots. But before I say why I don’t like it (which ties in with the dialogue aspect), I’ll explain what’s so different about it. Lots of shots involve a camera dolly (the tracks the camera can move across) and for non-moving shots, the go-to was a straight-on, centered close up. The dolly shots were extremely smooth (something you want in these types of shots) and was an interesting way to keep the action moving from one location to another (i.e. between rooms in the Bishop house) but it just didn’t fit. The film is not as peaceful and serene as the cinematography makes it out to be. There’s a lot of tension, intentional and unintentional, and the visuals do not match the story.

This also ties into my problem with the dialogue. Now, Moonrise Kingdom was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay (which it lost to Tarantino for Django Unchained) so many people obviously liked the writing style. I found it to be incredibly forced and unnatural. Parts including the adults - Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis), Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton), and Walt Bishop (Bill Murray) - were ok. The situations they were place in and their reactions were more believable and even provided a few laughs. But the focus of the film was on the kids Sam and Suzy and here things weren’t as good. Especially Sam, his lines are just things no one, even extremely mature boys, would say. Additionally, the delivery of the lines created lots of unintentional tension. The abruptness and pauses during speaking, combined with very static, close, and centered shots made things extremely odd and unfitting for the film.

Expectations are an important part of opinions. Going into Moonrise Kingdom my expectations were fairly high. Some things like the production design, color, and a handful of performances (from the adults) met, and in some ways, exceed expectations. But overall, the film just struck me a different and odd in a bad way. The style and choices Anderson made clashed with the story. One of the many things I’ve learned from this marathon is that even after seeing many films and thinking you know what a film will be like, there’s always a new one that comes to shake things up. I do not like Moonrise Kingdom, but you may. Maybe I just have to learn how to accept something new - I’ll see what I think after watching another Anderson film. By then there will have been enough time to ruminate on this new and different style and whether or not it’s bad for the reasons I cite above or is just an acquired taste.

RATING: 3 out of 5