Moonrise Kingdom: Too little, too late

Wes Anderson’s latest film is a slideshow of funny, pretty moments, but that’s about it.

Terrible news, everyone. Moonrise Kingdom is not the Wes Anderson you were looking for. You’ll watch it, you’ll laugh gently, but in the end you’ll say what the diehard Anderson fan behind me said when the lights came back up: “Well, it’s not his best, but it was one of his prettiest.”

That is, you’ll make those justifications IF you are a diehard Wes Anderson fan like that young and optimistic gent in the theater. If Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, Bottle Rocket, or Fantastic Mr. Fox didn’t float your boat, I advise you to choose another film to see this weekend. There’s nothing for you here.

Moonrise Kingdom is a coming of age story, sort of, about two adolescents on one of those super-quaint New England islands. Everything is grey, green, tan, and red–the perfect palette of a natural scene, punctuated by bright, man-made objects looking awkwardly out of place next to serenely rippling waters. The two adolescents briefly run away from home/camp, and take shelter in the wilderness of their small microcosm. As are all of Anderson’s films, the movie is beautifully shot and meticulously put together. Comedy occurs via props, staging, and timing–a rare thing these days, but a stylistic signature that he’s perfected over the years.

Unfortunately, we’re not just interested in some wham, bam, thank you Wes Anderson. We need the kind of story that Owen Wilson and Noah Baumbach can deliver (co-writers for W.A.’s more successful films). Instead of a cohesive and gripping narrative, like that of Max’s struggle in Rushmore or Royal’s deception in Tenenbaums, Moonrise Kingdom is a showpiece that is nothing more than the sum of its parts.

And to make up for the lackluster Roman Coppola screenplay, Anderson capitalizes on a tried-and-true formula that’s gotten him lots of laughs in the past (and just to be perfectly clear, this is my own rendering, NOT a still from the film itself):

What you see here is your typical “Close-Up of Deadpan Character, Slightly Ridiculous in His/Her Earnestness and Positioned in the Exact Center of the Frame.” In the background, among gorgeous set pieces and props, somebody does something sudden and/or absurd.

Just add a line that seems humorously out of place for the character to say (in the case of Moonrise, that’s usually something very grown-up), and you’ve got yourself a recipe for success. Anderson’s wields this device like a dangerously precise Sword of Comedy in most of his other films. But in this one1, he focuses too much on those fencing skills and not enough on his story. One Deadpan Close-Up follows another in a seemingly endless series of boring moments, as flimsy, undeveloped characters deliver Slightly Ridiculous yet Earnest lines from the Exact Center of the Frame. We don’t have a suicidal Richie to cry for (Tenenbaums) or an eternally cheerful Dignan to root for (Bottle Rocket). We just watch, mildly smiling, until it ends.

That’s not good enough for me. Sure, it’s better than your average, hastily thrown-together snoozefest, but we’ve all seen what Wes Anderson can do. And it sure is better than Moonrise Kingdom.

Why you should see this movie

You’re fuming at my sacrilege, and you desperately want me to be wrong. I am ready and willing to accept your rage, but I do ask that you do one thing. Go see the movie and then wait a week before you wag that finger at me. Ask yourself this: Do you remember anything about it? Do you feel things when you think of it? Do you even remember the character’s names?

Why you should stay home

And by “stay home” I mean “go see Magic Mike.” I hear that movie is intense.

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Susan Howson

Susan Howson is managing editor for this very website. She writes THE BEST bios.

Notice: Comments that are not conducive to an interesting and thoughtful conversation may be removed at the editor’s discretion.

  1. Beth on said:

    I disagree. I LOVED this movie and so did my devoted spouse. It’s a feel good movie and is reminescent of simpler times when running away from home meant leaving for just a day or two.

  2. schlep on said:

    This movie has a heart of gold, and smiles in your face while giving you a slap, and a tickle. Wes Anderson is a master!

  3. CSB on said:

    This movie was like scrolling through Pinterest for an hour and a half. Pretty to look at, but also filled to the brim with battery-powered portable record player fetishism.

  4. CSB on said:

    Also, as an adult woman, I found the on-screen bra-and-panties sexuality of a 12 year old girl a little troubling.

  5. Steve on said:

    Wes Anderson is a prince of an artist and his kingdom may not be large, but I am thankful he gives me a place to visit every now and then. His writing, cinematography and style are unique in a world of predictability.

  6. Well that illustration is amazing.

  7. Kelly on said:

    Bill Murray really nailed his impression of Bill Murray, though.

  8. Steve on said:

    Now lets bust on Bill Murray. Sheesh! Bill Murray is awesome!

  9. Sorry, dudes, I cannot tell a lie. Everyone is awesome, everyone is beautiful, nothing is memorable, Roman Coppola needs to move along.

  10. Steve on said:

    No need to be sorry because it is your opinion and I do not make judgements on other people’s opinions. I always like dark odd movies that other people think is too depressing or boring. One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest is my favorite movie.

  11. I like you, Steve. You should teach a class on how to comment delightfully!

  12. Steve on said:

    Except when I write-is- instead of-are-in a sentence. Ha! Thanks. I enjoy reading your opinions even though we might not agree at times.

  13. Tony on said:

    I doubt I would prefer Magic Mike to Moonrise Kingdom, Susan, but I dig your cartooning skills.

  14. Mike B on said:

    I disagree, and here’s why: I found the “running away together” narrative to be engaging and well-presented, and I say that having watched Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums immediately after watching Moonrise Kingdom. The wrap-up of the narrative (I’ll avoid spoilers) seemed a little too perfect at first, but in retrospect it’s no more absurd than Rushmore’s, e.g. Buchan magically accepting Max’s casting call, etc. I also loved the underlying theme of Moonrise Kingdom; that we may be flawed, even terribly so, but it doesn’t mean we’re irreparably broken or undeserving of love. It’s sort of an inversion of the Tenenbaums theme, that we don’t have to achieve constant, overwhelming greatness to be loved.

    What you found too “conventionally Wes Anderson” about the film, I really enjoyed. I loved just about every choice he made visually, and having been a fan for so long, the familiarity helped me connect with the story and characters much more closely. I found it really touching overall.

    Maybe it’s just a difference in tastes, but I really think you should watch your favorite WA film(s) again, then go watch Moonrise Kingdom again.

    (All of that said, I agree with an earlier commenter’s take on Kara Heyward’s underwear scenes. A little unsettling.)

  15. lasingh on said:

    I completely agree with SH’s analysis of this. It was beautiful, I would even call it a good movie (which is much more than you could say for Darjeeling…) It’s well and good that Anderson revel a little in the influential style he has created, but the movie was totally unmemorable and the characters are thin compared to his earlier works. Also, guys, he killed that sweet little pooch.

  16. eve on said:

    I loved it, and I genuinely giggled with glee a few times in the theater. I’m pretty sure no Channing Tatum movie will ever make me do that. I also think Jason Schwartzman’s part was way too small.

  17. Jo Farzin-Nia on said:

    I loved this was a perfect gem with great performances, a real slice of American life 50 years ago. Parents should be taking their kids to this film instead of turning R rated ‘Ted’ into the family movie of choice. What is the matter this people today. Does everything have to be action-packed ,or guts and guns. This was a work of art with every little detail perfect!

  18. qcc on said:

    I thought this movie was beautifully wistful; a lovely story of the feelings of childhood/adolescence. While I found some of his other recent movies too reliant on the superficial “Wes Anderson” qualities, I thought they complemented the story well in this movie and were used with restraint. In fact, watching this movie makes me think I should take a closer look at some of his other recent movies that maybe I hadn’t paid close enough attention to the underlying story the first time around. As another adult woman, I disagree about the “bra and panties” scene I don’t think the scene was supposed to be “sexy” but to portray the awkward burgeoning sexuality of adolescence. We’ve all lived through that age, so it seems a little silly to deny that it exists.

  19. Guys, I’m kind of being convinced that maybe I need to see this movie again.

  20. les ryann on said:

    Susan, Wes Anderson is my favorite director, and my reaction to this movie was incredibly similar to yours. So, like you, I’ll see it again and hope I’m a little more enthusiastic the second time around. The young actors were adorable but maybe too young to pull off an Andersonian character (Jason Schwartzman nailed it in Rushmore… maybe that’s the age cut-off.)

  21. Allison on said:

    I liked it… but I didn’t “Like” like it. I wasn’t sorry I spent the money on it, but I wasn’t thrilled like I was with the Royal Tenenbaums. The troubled characters in TRT had a short and concise explanation as to why they were troubled, quirky, and/or confused about life, and while they mention that she was “troubled” and that she had some rage issues, it was never really explained as to why. I didn’t need a diatribe on it, but she seemed to think she wasn’t troubled, while her parents did, and that was never really explained.

    Also, what’s Wes’ deal with dogs?

  22. You hit the nail on the head, IMO. The story (as weak as it’s told) is lost in Anderson’s style. Very unfortunate because I’ve loved most everything else he’s done.

  23. Emily on said:

    Did anyone know to stay after the credits? The usher made everyone stay when my folks saw it and they loved a scene after the credits where they introduce all of the musical instruments like in the record playing at the very beginning. So for those who have not gone or go again, wait!

  24. Meredith on said:

    I agree with the comments above in certain respects. I love being immersed into the world Anderson creates, this film was much more enjoyable than any other blockbuster out, and I love the concept of this film and small details like megaphone. However, I still think with all these great elements it fell short of what it could have accomplished. I didn’t feel as connected or committed to the characters, their were almost two many adults thrown in who were never developed along with a ton of minor kid parts, and the dialogue just didn’t nail it at times. And even if the style (refer to drawing) is great at times when it works in the story, does that mean their can’t be a few risks? Of course, I’m going to watch it again and hopefully pick up more subtle things always in his films and I’ll probably like it more the second time but I feel like a film should still really knock you out the first time around.

  25. LouieKablooie on said:

    This article is trash and needs to be printed and burned and printed and burned again until all of the paper is gone. I loved it, sorry you didn’t maybe you are just a rusty dolt.

  26. Ben on said:

    that’s just …like…your opinion, man.

  27. It saddens me when the adolescent “ability” to be unmoved by masterful art is mistaken for sophistication. To mock identifiable technique does not mean you have grasped the artist’s intent. It means you have missed the point.

  28. dude on said:

    I was going to rip you for this review, but then read your rock of ages review. I’ll pass on carpel tunnel.

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