Editor’s Notes: In preparation for his ‘Projection: Oscar’ series starting again this fall, Oscar Pundit Jason McKiernan will take the next couple of weeks to review the already released 2012 titles with the most Oscar buzz.
Wes Anderson has flirted with Oscar before – an Original Screenplay nomination for The Royal Tenenbaums here, a Best Animated Feature nod for Fantastic Mr. Fox there – but the quintessential auteur of quirk has always been just a shade too odd to be fully embraced by the Academy. Now there’s Moonrise Kingdom, Anderson’s latest, and it’s quite possible that the Academy is ready to fully embrace the filmmaker’s unique world. The film has been a certified success on every level, shattering per-screen average records in its opening weekends and receiving some of the most widespread glowing reviews of Anderson’s career. The time seems right…and yet it’s a little ironic that all this acceptance is being heaped onto what I believe to be Anderson’s weakest film to date.
We’ve seen this delayed reaction by the Academy before – whether it was a heap of nominations and near-win for Scorsese’s Gangs of New York after the American Master was rejected several times before for some of the most important films of our time, or a slew of nods for Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood after the guy made the best films of 1997, 1999, and 2002, respectively, and was all-but ignored. There seem to be certain rites of passage when it comes to auteurs gaining the recognition of the prestigious Academy. One of them, evidently, is that your weakest film is the first to be given serious consideration.
After years of defending Wes Anderson against the consistent charges that his work was precious, I have to concede that Moonrise Kingdom is just too damn precious.
Much like Elizabethtown was the film where Cameron Crowe buckled under the weight of his own style and just started impersonating his other movies, Moonrise Kingdom feels like Wes Anderson doing his best Wes Anderson imitation. All the requisite pieces are locked in place: the storybook framework, the dry and quirky characters, the self-reflexive narration, the elaborate set design, and the inflated personal conflicts. But while in Anderson’s earlier films the artifice felt organic and genuine, here it seems stale and repetitive. After years of defending Wes Anderson against the consistent charges that his work was precious, I have to concede that Moonrise Kingdom is just too damn precious.
Perhaps that’s because the material is like a convergence of all the director’s auterist preoccupations, and he wasn’t able to gain the kind of distance, and therefore perspective, to deliver a movie without excess bloat. Looking at the form and content of the film, it is truly a collage of every shade of the Anderson oeuvre, applied without much discernment. Going back as far as Rushmore (and going even further back, even certain parts of Bottle Rocket), Anderson’s films looked and felt like twisted storybook tales with live-action illustrations…then he went and actually adapted a twisted storybook tale in animated form. Moonrise Kingdom is a live-action film with plenty of storybook-centric quasi-animated material integrated, coated in thick blanket of twee oddity. It all, finally, feels like too much.
Moonrise Kingdom is a live-action film with plenty of storybook-centric quasi-animated material integrated, coated in thick blanket of twee oddity. It all, finally, feels like too much.
On its face, the film is an adolescent love story between Suzy (Kara Hayward) and Sam (Jared Gilman), another of Anderson’s over-mature young renegade heroes. He’s an orphan boy scout and she’s more bookish and isolated, but once they lock eyes, nothing can deter their love. That love develops over the course of a rainy New England summer, and it drives the young couple to hatch a plan to run off together. A rogue’s gallery of kooky Anderson characters lead the search party, from Bruce Willis’ lonely police captain to Edward Norton’s insecure scout master to Suzy’s dysfunctional parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand, priceless but underused) to a Social Services representative named Social Services (Tilda Swinton). Since, let’s face it, Anderson seems a lot like young Sam, we can see and understand his fascination with allowing this story to unfold as yet another mannered, literary adventure, purely fantastical and yet played completely straight, in a meticulously crafted cine-world. I typically share his glee, but not this time. Odd as they may be, characters in a Wes Anderson movie are usually compulsively engaging, but in Moonrise Kingdom, the characters don’t drive the story. Instead, the screenplay drives the characters. None of these wonderful actors are given enough space to command the narrative. Rather than feeling his characters, Anderson seems like a puppet master, driven by minutiae rather than emotion. It’s too bad, because this is precisely the kind of story that is close to Anderson’s heart – probably too close, this time around.
Oscar Thoughts: My admittedly minority opinion notwithstanding, Moonrise Kingdom is clearly one of the very few first-half films of 2012 to merit serious Oscar consideration. My guess is that Fox Searchlight will keep pushing throughout the season, and I’m sure they will consider a late-year re-release. The film is surely a Best Picture contender, and since it is so clearly a Wes Anderson movie, he is a Best Director contender. Those are all dependent upon the number of fall and winter releases that make an impact, but one thing I doubt will change for the remainder of the season: I think Anderson and Roman Coppola will win the Best Original Screenplay Oscar, hands down.
[notification type=”star”]56/100 ~ MEDIOCRE. For the first time in his career, Anderson truly deserves the “precious” label, for Moonrise Kingdom is all about minutiae and style, rather than character and attitude.[/notification]