Moonrise Kingdom—movie review

Reviews
by Leonard Maltin
May 25, 2012 1:25 AM
17 Comments
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I really wanted to like this film. I respect Wes Anderson and his distinctive voice as a writer-director (Rushmore is one of my favorite films of the 1990s), but this latest endeavor is so precious and self-aware that it nearly smothers itself. He’s been heading in this direction for a while, as evidenced by The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and The Darjeeling Limited, both of which had inspired ideas scattered within them. Moonrise Kingdom is more frustrating than either of those pictures because it deals with two youthful misfits and ought to win our hearts. But in his crucial casting of the young leads, and in his overall tone, Anderson builds a wall around these kids, and that kept me at an emotional distance.

Newcomers Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward play lonely young eccentrics who meet by chance in 1965 and plan to run away together on the New England coastal island where she lives. This causes consternation on the part of Gilman’s scout leader, played by Edward Norton, Hayward’s oddball parents, Frances McDormand and Bill Murray, and the local police chief, Bruce Willis. Their lives are interconnected in this small community, even more so as the search for the two runaways continues. As it happens, the frustrated and largely incompetent adults seem less mature than the boy and girl who, for all their peccadilloes, are genuine soul mates.

I wish I liked the two young actors better; it certainly isn’t their fault, but warmth is not Anderson’s strongest suit and he doesn’t allow them to win us over as, ironically, a more conventional Hollywood director might. The grownups, playing their often-buffoonish roles in deadpan style, are amusing and bring much-needed appeal to the proceedings.

The central idea by Anderson and his writing partner Roman Coppola has promise, but Moonrise Kingdom is self-consciously clever to a fault. The sheer amount of detail—in the costuming, production design, choice of music (a lot of Benjamin Britten) and camera moves—is overwhelming. Colleagues of the director frequently praise him for “knowing what he wants,” which is meant as a compliment, but obsessive single-mindedness is not always a good thing. Apparently the scouts’ pup tents were made expressly for the film by a firm that replicated a style and fabric that would have been used in 1965. Does that authenticity add an ounce of emotional resonance to the movie? I think not.

I can’t ignore, or disparage, the sheer originality of Moonrise Kingdom, from its peculiar characters to their peculiar homes. But I wish I felt something more.

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17 Comments

  • jay are | February 19, 2013 10:50 AMReply

    I think Anderson makes adult movies for children and vice versa.
    I mean that as a compliment. Nevertheless I've never been satisfied with his movies.
    And so I agree with you, Leo, concerning this one.
    But there's one exception. I love THE FANTASTIC MR. FOX.
    But that's mainly because of the ingenious adapted novel by Roald Dahl.
    ....and perhaps because there are no classical actors. in it
    (with their woody and clumsy performances) ;-)

  • Dave Black | July 5, 2012 7:37 AMReply

    Every thing in every frame of this film was negative, swimming in a sea of denigration. We are expected to laugh AT everything. I could not then buy into the tender touching moments.

  • Patrick M. Gouin | July 4, 2012 11:28 PMReply

    A light little black comedy, at absurdity’s edge, that reminds us of the worlds created by John Irving ( The world according to Garp and Hotel New Hampshire). A type of movie fairly common in the 70’s that we don’t see much now. Too Bad!
    Moonrise kingdom is quite amusing, even though it doesn’t revolutionize the genre. The cast of celebrities happily helps to elevate the experience. All in all, a good little entertainment piece. Nothing more.

  • Bob Somebody | June 19, 2012 11:54 PMReply

    How is feeling emotionally distant from Anderson's characters an unexpected critique? Even Hackman hated Royal Tenenbaums. This is a certain kind of brilliant filmmaking. One where decisions are heavily influenced by style and cleverness (I can't come up with a better word). Doesn't it say something that no other writer/director has been so idolized and copied by the commercial world? Anderson (or at least post Anderson/Wilson) makes beautiful films, films that feel like what we want heaven to be like. But do they break your heart?

  • Wendy | June 17, 2012 8:26 PMReply

    I really agree with your review Mr Maltin, having just seen it. Rushmore is one of my favorite films too. I did not warm up to Moonrise because it was trying so hard to be quirky - it was odd for odd's sake. Even the most offbeat film needs a germ of some reality in my opinion - or I start to lose focus - I don't have any attachment to characters who are ALL the same level of strange. Maybe Edward Norton's character was someone you could feel for - but the film left me cold and wasn't even very funny consistently.

  • Bill Harris | June 11, 2012 11:46 AMReply

    With all of the attention to detail, there was one glaring (literally) problem. The electric Coleman lantern used by the kids when they were camping. Such things did not exist in 1965 unless I am terribly mistaken.

  • Jeffrey | June 4, 2012 11:57 AMReply

    I think what Mr. Maltin believes is that this film didn't fulfill the expectations nearly as well as, say, "Men In Black III", which is a perfectly rational argument. It doesn't mean both films were highly anticipated. The crux of the difference is how well a film meets its potential.

    No sophisticated movie buff would say with a straight face that they expected more from "Men In Black III" than "Moonrise Kindgom".

  • paul paul | May 31, 2012 1:17 AMReply

    thanks for being one of the few brave souls. i caught a screening of MK this evening. a character opened a tent. people laughed. a guy put a barometer in the wind. people laughed. the wind blew. people laughed. I don't even think die hard Wes Anderson fans know exactly what they are laughing at anymore. I really want to like WA again. But i can't see another film where people speak and walk like someone continues to place quarters in their backs.

  • Bill | May 26, 2012 6:14 PMReply

    They're 12. It's not suppose to be sophisticated. I would argue if you fail to get the movie's message that you either never experienced young love or you've forgotten about it. According to this writer Men in Black 3 is a better movie. Aren't movies suppose to be about feeling something? I dare anyone to go see both movies. Which makes you feel more? Not saying Men in Black is bad, but it irks me when a movie that is "status quo" is preferred over a film that brings originality to the table.

  • kiyan | June 7, 2012 4:42 PM

    your one dimensional view of films will stop you from enjoying most of what is out there.

  • c.a. | May 26, 2012 2:55 PMReply

    Couldn't agree more with this review. A previous commenter assumes any level of emotional exploration should be equated to 'cheesiness'. Perhaps this is the un-sensibility perfectly suited to a certain plugged in, hyper-ironic set. This type of affectation is becoming more and more rigid in Anderson's films, in keeping with the growth curve of a formalist. It's also tied to a seemingly harmless nostalgia for a largely white America, grounded in an architecture of homespun materialism that is just beginning to explore the world of the Other. That's probably why Darjeeling was widely panned-- it got too close. But exploring is the wrong word, because I believe this affectation-- Anderson's vision-- is largely the product of a dull fascination with the surface of cute, and that's about it.

  • Ryan | May 26, 2012 7:04 AMReply

    "warmth is not Anderson’s strongest suit and he doesn’t allow them to win us over as, ironically, a more conventional Hollywood director might." True a more conventional director would have definitely "cheesed up" the romance of this movie. Not sure how many people remember what it was like to be that young, but I think this movie did a good job portraying what two very young people act like when they feel something for each other. Boys that young act a certain way and most of the times it comes in the form of immaturity. Feeling something for that girl does not instantly transform him into some mature adult and give him the ability to express himself like most stereotypical Hollywood romances carry on. The scene where he finds the girls book about problem children is a good example of where his immaturity comes out.

  • William Snider Films | May 26, 2012 7:04 AMReply

    To Mr. Leonard Maltin, ever since I watched the original Star Wars trilogy on VHS as a child, each film introduced with a outstanding interview that you did with George Lucas I have always felt a certain kind of loyal fondness for you and your opinions. I am going to have to say, sadly, that I think more highly of Wes Anderson than you, and find your critique to be shallow and shortsighted. The emotionally dull quality, so iconic to Anderson pictures, that you descry here is part of the method he uses. Emotions in real life are not overt or clear, emotions of film characters are stronger and simpler. Anderson uses realistic character qualities to counterbalance the artificiality and staginess of his visual style. And in regard to pup tents, I would have to say "yes", the authenticity does enhance the resonance. Just as Peter Weir's Master and Commander resonates with me deeply, large in part due to the tangibility and realism that you feel watching the picture. And to anyone who was part of scouts during the 1960's what could be more hardhitting sentimentally than seeing those little details that you haven't seen for years and years. Any period film should be harshly judged according to it attention to detail and accuracy, that is crucial. Something which the obnoxious (and in this writer's opinion, bizarrely overrated) Baz Lurrmann seems incapable of understanding, along with his grotesque penchant for self-righteous snarkiness. I should also like to speak in defense of The Life Aquatic, which despite its mysterious aversion it seems to find among the critics is most likely Anderson's most iconic, most memorable, best loved, and best overall film achievement. The Life Aquatic is like Blade Runner, or Pinkerton, or geocentricism, it just takes a while for the stiffs to warm up to it and assess it for what it is; a revolutionary masterpiece. Without malice, Sincerely, William Snider Films.

  • Boere | October 20, 2012 8:37 PM

    Can't believe someone actually took the time to write that crap. Get over yourself, Anderson's last few movies are horrible.

  • sage | May 27, 2012 1:40 PM

    I absolutely agree about the life aquatic. I absolutely despised it the first time I saw it. But then I watched it again, and then again, and then again, and something clicked. Its not only my favorite Wes Anderson film, it stands as one of my favorite all time. Im glad to read that somewhere out there, some one else recognizes the films greatness.

  • William Snider Films | May 26, 2012 7:07 AM

    I apologize, when I used the term geocentrism, that was a typo. Naturally, if you substitute Heliocentrism for that word my statement makes significantly more sense.

  • Jeffrey | May 25, 2012 2:25 AMReply

    If this highly-touted indie film is actually no good, so be it.

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