Saturday, 26 May 2012
Tweehouses: "Moonrise Kingdom"
I should declare a bias, first of all: Wes Anderson is one of those filmmakers who've come to drive me squarely up the pastel-coloured wall. Even those films of Anderson's I'd file under diverting - the Bottle Rockets, the Rushmores, the Tenenbaums - have bordered on the static and airless, and I've long wished for a Jim Carrey or Will Ferrell to tear through these precisely ordered sets, to carve up their meticulous symmetries, to knock off the hats angled on these characters' heads with one hand while ruffling their hair with the other. Anderson's pernickety aesthetic is the result of a refinement bordering on pedantry that kills each joke stone dead. All his energies go towards crafting gags, characters and plots for museum cabinets: this is material not to be touched, let alone laughed at. Precious isn't the word for it.
Still, Anderson has admirers enough to be encouraged yet. Moonrise Kingdom, the director's Sixties-set tale of two teenage runaways garnering the attention of their quiet New England community, may be the most Anderson-ish production to date, for all that that recommendation is worth. It is endlessly, relentlessly Wes, from its colour-coordinated opening credits to its offbeam, scarcely human characters (tiny piles of propbox signifiers, animated more from without than within) to the miscellany of etchings and doodles and tchotchkes and geegaws that surround them, which nowadays apparently constitutes a credible and involving - some have even invoked the adjective "touching" - movie universe.
The teenagers' journey - from scout camp and other forms of bourgeois hell to the watershed that serves as some form of liberation - cues more of the same, only more so. There's the declamatory acting style, straight to camera, which suggests the actors are less important, in the overall design, than how their names might look on the poster and publicity material. (No-one has ever given an emotionally complex performance in a Wes Anderson film, and Anderson only needs Bruce Willis, Bill Murray and Ed Norton to get these dollshouses out of his bedroom and into the multiplex; drawstringed, talking Willis, Murray and Norton action figures could generate the same deadpan effects as their flesh-and-blood equivalents, which reminds you just how easily the filmmaker made the transition to stopmotion animation for 2009's Fantastic Mr. Fox.)
Only compounding the archness of tone that makes Damsels in Distress look and sound like Dumb & Dumber is the infuriating, anti-cinematic absence of movement, whether physical or emotional, between frames - a flaw that continues to suggest Anderson would be better suited to illustrating the drier entries in The New Yorker's Children's Book of the Month competition. At all points, I remained astonished only by the level of indulgence demanded by this vision: that a filmmaker with the intelligence, the taste and the budget to stage an unbelievably lavish church production of Noye's Fludde (and don't get me started on the unconscionable wankiness of choosing that production above all others) should be labouring over these cute exercises in juvenilia that obsess over form to mask the absence of content or passion from their remit, and which bear not the slightest relation to the world as you or I know it. (It's telling Anderson should be making films about boy scouts in 1965 - in historical terms, a nothing year - rather than, say, boy soldiers in '68.)
For all Anderson's indie credentials, he's really doing no more than the American mainstream at its worst: taking the side of a coupla kids over the variously uptight, dried-out or past-it adults fussing around them. In some ways, this is only to be expected: the director has always come across as something of a big kid himself, one who's never had to struggle to fund or make his movies. He stages Moonrise's visual gags - like the treehouse perched precariously in the upper branches of a giant willow tree - like a prep-school scholar seeking affirmation from his parents: I did that, mommy! Compared to the termite-y business of the New American Comedy, scratching towards human truths through jokes, Moonrise Kingdom is a white elephant resprayed yellow with pink stripes, and its unrelenting precocity soon gets the better of it: it's impossible to make out whether Anderson has anything to say, when every other element of his film is busily hollering "look at me, look at me, look at me". Many have lined up to pat Moonrise on the head; I'm not so sure I won't be the only one who comes away wanting to throttle the brat.
Moonrise Kingdom is in cinemas nationwide.