PG-13, but it is a very icky PG-13. While the movie isn't entirely about kids exploring their sexuality, that stuff is definitely explicit in there. Like, it's really uncomfortable at times. There's some jokey violence. It kind of comes across like some of the things that would eventually be seen in Isle of Dogs. There's also some mild language. Wes Anderson is really good at pushing MPAA ratings. Like how The Fantastic Mr. Fox shouldn't be PG, Moonrise Kingdom probably shouldn't be PG-13. But it is.
DIRECTOR: Wes Anderson
I've griped about it and I've griped about it. For some reason, Moonrise Kingdom slipped through the cracks when it was in the theater. I think we had a newborn or my wife was insanely pregnant at the time, but we just didn't get out to see this one when it came out. Being new parents, we were tired all the time, so we didn't even get a chance to rent it. A couple years later, it was on Netflix and my wife and I were excited that we could watch a new Wes Anderson movie. We finished the movie almost stone-faced. Considering that we were both Wes Anderson die hard fans, we both felt like we got very little out of the movie. I remember having that awkward feeling of forcing myself to laugh in desperate attempt to like the movie. Well, I decided to revisit this movie in hopes that maybe I was just in the wrong headspace while watching it.
I've talked about this phenomenon with Anderson before. There are certain entries in his ouvre that feel like he is trying to make a Wes Anderson movie. Obstructed by his own shadow, these are the movies where he has to keep up appearances. Everything in Moonrise Kingdom feels like a Wes Anderson movie. He's got the great soundtrack. You can bisect a lot of his setups. Kids act like adults. Adults act like kids. There's a self-aware narrator. The color palate is all on-brand. It just doesn't gel like the other movies do. I have theories about this. I definitely place blame on certain actors. But fundamentally, I get the vibe that Moonrise Kingdom isn't a movie in itself, so much as it is an attempt to do what has worked in the past, coupled with the urge to create Isle of Dogs.
Moonrise Kingdom comes right after Fantastic Mr. Fox. The humor is very similar. It plays up far more physically than a movie like The Royal Tenenbaums. I adore the animated films. I completely recommend them and will stand by them. But the physical humor of those movies works significantly better in animated form than in live action. I do believe that Anderson is in the headspace that will put him on track for Isle of Dogs, but I don't think he mentally shifted out of Fantastic Mr. Fox to make the movie that he really wanted to with Moonrise Kingdom. The physical humor really falls flat. The most glaring moment is perhaps when Sam gets struck by lightning. There are elements of the cartoon world in Moonrise, but it never really goes all in. The setting reads more like something we'd see out of Anderson's other vehicles. The closest I got to laughing was when Sam gets hit by lightning, but that moment should slay. As evidence of Anderson's love for the animated form, Sam doesn't actually suffer any consequences of getting hit by lightning. Rather, a comically Wile E. Coyote style blast mark around him reminds us what happened and Anderson tags scenes with Sam still emitting electricity.
Similar to the lightning strikes are the drastic shifts in emotion. Now, Anderson has been playing with this in his other movies, so I can't say that all of this is the result of his foray into animation. But the shifts are far more jarring than what works with live action. There are moments when Sam and Suzy just break out into dance or take hard right turns emotionally. I want to compare this to the moment when Eli Cash sneaks out of the Tenenbaum household and Royal catches him. The same intent is there. Eli Cash reaches out to Royal seemingly out of nowhere. I defend this moment, because Cash's character is an eccentric. But even more so, that moment lasts for a beat. There is no audio cut that would have the same effect as a smash cut, so that odd character choice only exists for a moment. The reality of how bizarre that shift is actually is the joke. Compare that to blaring music while the two kids dance on the beach. It's supposed to have the same effect. That smash cut feel of being thrown into a different emotional state is really jarring. That kind of stuff is all over Fantastic Mr. Fox, but the surreal world of Mr. Fox kind of allows for that kind of stuff to happen.
I'd like to talk a little speculation stuff here. If you didn't guess from what I wrote, I don't really like this movie. Lots of people do and I encourage them to keep liking it. Always like what you like. But my theory about the thing that really sticks the nail in the coffin is a lot of guesswork. I don't think that the cast is probably the right one for this movie. When writing about The Royal Tenenbaums, my big marvel is that Gene Hackman works in this movie. My theory for that one is that he had no idea what was going on, but just went with the flow and found himself in a touching movie. There are two actors in Moonrise Kingdom who are infamously hard to work with: Bruce Willis and Edward Norton. With Edward Norton, he has a history of making more risky films, so I can see him eventually getting on board to the film. He is able to adapt and meet the needs of the film. But after hearing Kevin Smith talk about Bruce Willis, I wouldn't be surprised if he just refused to play ball. None of his jokes really land in the entire movie. He seems to be put out for a lot of this movie.
And this is where I hate myself. I feel like I'm throwing a little girl under the bus, which makes me both a jerk as an old man and in the fact that she's a girl and I feel like a bully. Kara Hayward is one of the two leads. She's a major part of this movie...and she doesn't really take a bunch of risks. Anderson has his tropes. He keeps returning to the same well for a lot of his movies, and that includes character types. Suzy is Margot Tenenbaum. She's the flat-affected rebel runaway. The entire movie, it feels like Kara Hayward is just doing an impression of Gwyneth Paltrow's Margot and that doesn't offer anything new. There are moments in Royal Tenenbaums where Margot offers a different take from her character's disinterested flat affect. She looks genuinely moved and taken aback. Paltrow gives the character a battle to maintain her persona. While she wins the war, there are moments where she loses battles to maintain that aloofness. Suzy, however, with an almost carbon-copy delivery of Margot, misses some of those important beats. She is the same character throughout. Choices aren't really being made, but rather a voice and a posture are delivered. It's such a bummer because Suzy holds up so much of the movie. While I'm not in love Jared Gilman's Sam throughout, there are some real moments of vulnerability that he delivers. Suzy just seems like a robot while Sam feels like he's at least covering up some vulnerability.
This entire writing exercise proved to be more evaluative than I would have liked, but it is really hard to plumb the depths when you find a movie to be tedious. I don't think I've ever felt so good to see a runtime be reasonable because I just get bored. Aesthetically, everything is on point. It is a pretty movie to look at and to listen to, but nothing really grabs in terms of both story and character. It's odd, because Anderson usually nails his characters. I'm going to point the lens at myself for a second because I also know my tastes. You can probably throw out a lot of my criticisms knowing the following: I'm also not a big fan of Rushmore. As much as I claim that Moonrise Kingdom in the byproduct of Anderson's cinematic canon, it actually probably shares a lot of DNA with Rushmore. Having children as the protagonists in a film is fine. It's just that children acting as adults, for me, works better as a side joke than as the basis for an entire film. Ari and Uzi are fine because Anderson cuts to them for juxtaposition. Max Fischer, however, becomes insufferable.
So as much as I can complain about all these things, my opinion is ultimately just my opinion. I know people that I respect that absolutely adore this movie. They're probably right. It's just that all the things that I like about a Wes Anderson movie kind of fall flat here.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.