Monday, July 09, 2012

Keys to the Kingdom

I'm waiting for Wes Anderson's signature style to wear out its welcome with critics and audiences in the same way that Tim Burton's style seems to have. It's equally arch, equally precocious, and equally removed from anything approaching naturalism. Maybe it's a matter of scale. Anderson makes small, indie movies (albeit with big stars). Burton makes blockbusters. In truth, I was kind of tired of Anderson after Rushmore. And yet, there I was queuing up four times for Moonrise Kingdom (2012), not because I wanted to see it multiple times, but because my local art house kept selling out of the damned thing. It suddenly became a mission to see the film at all. Withholding it only made me more determined. I told the ticket taker that it better damned well be worth it or else I would write nasty things in my blog about them. (Not that I would do that. I love my local art house).

I'm not really sure what I think of Moonrise Kingdom. It's as arch and precocious as Anderson's other films. Perhaps moreso. But for some reason, I liked it more than I've liked his other films. Maybe it's the inclusion of Francoise Hardy on the soundtrack of a key scene. Maybe it's the way it begins and ends with a deconstruction of the music (and if you don't stay for the entire credits, you miss one of the film's signature delights along these lines). As far as writing about the film, though? Man, that's hard. I'm not entirely sure where to begin or even what angle to take.

The plot of the film is pretty simple: Khaki Scout Sam Sukowsky lights off from Camp Ivanhoe and runs off with the love of his life, Suzy Bishop, much to the consternation of everyone in their island community. Sam and Suzy are off on an adventure, but everyone else has scattered as if this act has thrown a rock in a placid pond. Scout Leader Ward enlists the rest of his troop in the search, while Captain Sharp, the island's constable, combs the island. Sam and Suzy, for their part, find an idyllic spot for themselves and set up camp. It can't last, of course, and the aftermath finds our young lovers separated and reunited as a heaping big storm approaches.

The thing that stood out most strongly for me was the color scheme of the film. The color has been corrected so that the entire film has the cast of a Polaroid that's a little faded. This is the color I associate with old home movies from the sixties and seventies, or films made with an AGFA color process from the same period. It's the color of memories. But that's disingenuous with this film, because Anderson was born four years after this film's setting. It's pure styling, but not unwelcome, really. The way Anderson's camera moves through space lends the film a kind of comic strip feeling--particularly as it scrolls through the Bishop house, which is compartmentalized by its rooms into little vignettes.

Bill Murray is in this film, of course. Murray is Anderson's avatar for himself, I suspect. Certainly, it's a fruitful collaboration, now spanning five films. The other actors are a delight, too. Bruce Willis needs to do more of these kinds of films. Ditto Ed Norton. Fran McDormand has already made a career out of these kinds of films, but being married to one of the Coen brothers will do that to a person. And Tilda Swinton is the kind of actress who can pretty much pop up anywhere an feel at home. She's a good choice for a character who is never given a name beyond her job as "Social Services." But these are all supporting characters. The core performances are by Jared Gilman and Kara Heyward as Sam and Suzy. They're both delightfully awkward, misfits the both of them. They're like the Tenenbaum kids unsullied by adulthood.

Speaking of which...

Thematically, this is a melancholy movie for all its whimsy (and any movie that puts Harvey Keitel into the short pants of a scout uniform is whimsical). The adventure Sam and Suzy embark upon is a storybook sort of adventure, not unlike those in the books that she carts around with her. But there's a sense of a last hurrah, too. Sam and Suzy will never be this free again, the film intimates, even if it averts the threat of shock therapy for Sam at the hands of Social Service. This is childhood's end. I can't help but think that this is the reason it's set in 1965, perhaps the last year before the social upheaval of the sixties and seventies would leave places like New Penzance untouched. Suzy strikes me as the kind of kid who would make her way to Haight-Ashbury a couple of years later. I don't have a bead on where Sam would light out for. The territories, I imagine.

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