Monday, May 21, 2012

Cannes '12 Review: "Moonrise Kingdom" [Competition]

If you gave up on trying to like Wes Anderson a long time ago, his latest, the Cannes opener Moonrise Kingdom, will do nothing to change your opinion. If you're a fan or somewhat indifferent, however, the New England-set coming of age comedy will likely prove to be, at the very least, a charming outing, whether or not it sticks with you long after the credits roll. Set in New Penzance Island at the end of summer, Kingdom follows two children - Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward) - who decide to run away together. This, of course, doesn't go unnoticed, and soon the island's quirky residents, old and young, are off to find the duo. 

As is common in Anderson's films, the images are calm, steady, bright, and colorful, and the characters all seem to be various incarnations of their upfront and deadpan writer/creator. This upfront attitude carries through the entire narrative, as Sam and Suzy decide to leave together without a moment's hesitation, their faces stoic and determined. As is common with comedies like this, the children are acting like spontaneous adults, while the adults are often stuck acting like big cartoonish children.

 Under Anderson's guidance, the film's pleasures come more from the scenes with the younger actors - Gilman and Hayward have natural introvert oddball presences - and their adventures. In addition to Sam and Suzy's pre-teen romance, the story also follows a group of young boys (Sam's former camp-mates) who go off to find the duo claiming that they don't intend on embarking on the search unarmed (cue the one laugh-out-loud moment: the group of boys marching into the woods with ludicrous makeshift weapons). Leave these adventures mostly on their own, and you have the potential for a bizarre and oddly winning story of childhood romance and adventure. Distinct as Anderson's voice may be, enough of the material resonates enough to ensure either laughs or general amusement. And, by downplaying the nature of Sam and Suzy's statuses as outsiders, certain moments that are strikingly adult come as genuine, well-earned surprises that further enforce the children-as-adults dynamic.

Less satisfying are the adults, who, despite being given equally vague characters, somehow feel weirdly distanced from the movie. A subplot involving Suzy's mother (Frances McDormand) and her affair with a nerdy cop (Bruce Willis), feels too minor, even as they play into the film's themes of growing up. The story ultimately belongs to the kids, so as fun as it is to see McDormand, Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, and Tilda Swinton (only referred to as Social Services and nothing more) on screen together, not much comes of it, even at the literally stormy climax. 

But if the adult-starring scenes are the weakest, the film does build to a strangely affecting climax. It's both eccentric and quietly touching, even as it also registers as completely superficial, which is both a good and bad thing. Even for those left unmoved, however, there are other things to enjoy, like the meticulous production design, warm summery visuals, a killer soundtrack, and Alexandre Desplat's rousing score. The constant pacing, efficient but never rushed, is also a plus, and helps the story maintain a nice momentum over its clean 90 minute duration. Few will be blown away by Moonrise Kingdom, save for the most diehard Anderson devotees, but there is more than enough here, both technically and emotionally, to ensure that many will at least have an enjoyable experience.

Grade: B/B+

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