June 04, 2012

MOVIES: Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson, 2012)

I had hoped that working with some new actors might break Anderson out of the overly decorated, hermetically sealed world his movies have increasingly occcupied. But alas, despite the presence of a fine cast, Moonrise Kingdom is one more claustrophobic journey up Anderson's ass, and it's the last one I'll be willing to take.

The movie is the story of Sam and Suzy (Jared Gilmore and Kara Hayward), 12-year-olds living on a small island somewhere off the coast of New England. It's 1965, and the two of them have decided to run away together. (They haven't thought much about where they're running to, what with being on an island and all, but then, they are only 12.)

The adults who set out to find them include Suzy's parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand), Sam's scout master (Edward Norton), and the local sheriff (Bruce Willis). And because Sam is an orphan, there's also a bureaucrat (Tilda Swinton) on hand, a woman so efficient that she has dispensed with even her own name; she's addressed only as "Social Services."

Swinton's performance is quite lovely; she's got a crisp humor that brings the movie to life during her brief moments on screen. Had the rest of the cast matched her tone and energy, the movie could have been delightful. But everyone is so mannered and stiff that they cease to be people, and become mere objects to be positioned in Anderson's oh-so-precise visual compositions.

There are scattered moments in the movie that work splendidly -- a brief conversation between Murray and McDormand about the hurt they've caused one another, a beautifully staged church production of Britten's Noye's Fludde -- but the relationship between the two kids cripples the movie. It's creepily over-sexualized, and that's only made worse by the fact that he looks younger than his age and she looks older than hers.

I did like Alexandre Desplat's score, which is primarily supplemented by the unlikely combination of Britten and Hank Williams. But the movie as a whole is so mannered, so antiseptic, so pressed under glass, that no life can escape from it. There was a time when Wes Anderson was one of our most promising directors; now, he's just one of our most depressingly predictable.

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