I’m an unabashed Anderson fan. Love everything he’s done from RUSHMORE to FANTASTIC MR. FOX. He’s a director who has never disappointed me and even the film I liked least by him (DARJEELING) easily found its way into my top ten for that year. However amongst my friends Anderson was a hack and as such I found myself very much alone in my appreciation of his work. As such when those same friends came back from MOONRISE KINGDOM with nothing but praise I was concerned. You see I liked the stuff that Anderson was criticised for. I loved his aesthetic, I loved how constructed his worlds were, I loved how Anderson framed things. I even, due to my own circumstances, found myself continually moved by Anderson’s continued exploration of father figures as a central theme of his work. But these were all things that my friends criticised and as such I was expecting to find a more compromised film from Anderson. As such I held off on watching the film for a long, long time.
When I actually watched the film I was delighted to find it was just as much in Anderson’s wheelhouse as his other movie. I think maybe having the film be specifically a period piece and be specifically about children allowed people to accept Anderson’s usual style. I will admit the focusing on two kids, both embarking on their first ever romance, makes Anderson’s picturebook style feel a lot more natural than it normally would. It could also be that after the relative break that FANTASTIC MR. FOX presented they were just ready to accept Anderson’s style.
It also helps that Suzy and Sam are probably some of the most likeable lead characters that Anderson has ever had. Still the outsiders, still hopelessly self absorbed, but their age and the performances really help to get away the inherent unpleasantness that lurks within most of Anderson’s characters. They’re damaged, but salvageable. In many ways Suzy and Sam is like looking at the beginnings of some of Anderson’s older characters, watching the pivotal moment that would shift them into people like the grown up Tenenbaums, Zissou, or the brothers on the Darjeeling Limited. Whilst there’s an ambiguity to the end of the film, it seems to represent a path that leads to earlier happiness than most Anderson characters get.
This is probably my second favourite Anderson film, just behind THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS, and whilst that will probably change once immediacy has worn off I was overjoyed watching it. It’s such an amazingly put together movie, with a rhythm and energy that Anderson hadn’t had since THE LIFE AQUATIC and an extended cast that could go toe to toe with the extended Tenebaum family. There are so many great little roles and characters in the film that it’s really hard to single some out, although it is nice seeing Ed Norton being playful with a role. He’s so great with lighter stuff, but so focused on more serious work, that I always forget how great a comedic touch he has. It’s also nice seeing Bruce Willis properly engaged by a material, even if he does play a little broadly and thus remind me uncomfortably of BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS. But the heart of the film is the two kids and they benefit from a focus that, for Anderson at least, is almost razor sharp. It’s such a perfect essaying of young love and of the period that I’d assume it was drawn from their own experiences if it wasn’t for the fact the 1965 setting dates it about half a decade before either Anderson or his co-writer Roman Coppolla were born.
There's such a great attention to detail to such odd little touches, like the overly elaborate Noah's Ark production, that it feels way more lived in than a fictional setting should. But that's the heart of Anderson I feel, his tics and offbeat choices actually granting a sense of verisimilitude to events that are inherently ridiculous.
So yeah, loved this. And I even loved the odd narrator guy, particularly his breathlessly dramatic which introduces the storm that rocks the third act of the film. It’s an offbeat choice but I really, really, loved it.