Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Film review | Moonrise Kingdom

The Emperor’s New Khakis
By Thomas Delapa

Well, at least one critic got it right.

“This summer’s sleeper hit” proclaimed Ann Hornaday in the Washington Post of director Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom.

As an aside from the popcorn gallery, I’ll just say, “My kingdom for a No-Doz.”

An arid heir to recent Anderson live-action films like The Darjeeling Limited and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, this Kingdom is anything but wild. Set in 1965 (for no apparent reason) on a mythical New England island (for no apparent reason), it’s the soporific study of an runaway boy scout who teams up with a misfit girl. Imagine a kiddie Badlands or a washed-out Blue Lagoon. However you picture it, it’s no good.

After showing such sparkling promise in his 1996 Bottle Rocket debut and reaching the heights in The Royal Tenenbaums, Anderson’s talent and imagination have fizzled. Sure, he’s still crafting his meticulously composed vignettes of wry Americana, but his story sense—never much more than plebian—has lately been a dud. When you’re watching a Wes Anderson movie, you keep looking around wondering if anyone else (besides his actors) is in on the joke.

Anderson and co-writer Roman Coppola (scion of the Francis Coppola house) dream up “New Penzance Island,” a bucolic backwater where adults act like kids and kids act like adults. At Camp Ivanhoe, upright, uptight Scoutmaster Ward (Edward Norton) is in charge, browbeating his boys with quaint threats and exclamations like “Jiminy Cricket!” All of them get in line except one: Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman), a precocious bespectacled boy in a coonskin cap who goes AWOL from his pup tent and embarks on an oddball odyssey into the wild.

But this movie deserves no merit badges, except for Pretension and Quirkiness. It’s dressed up with nowhere to go, accessorized with Anderson’s typically overstuffed tableaux, photographed in long, gratuitous dolly shots. Abetted by bloated budgets for art design, Anderson fills his frame with trinkets, doodads, graphics and decor that refer back to nothing in particular, except maybe his own airy, flea-market imagination. His and Coppola’s dialogue is equally arch, composed of non sequiturs fit for only a king of smug indie obscurity.

Sam’s journey leads to a romantic rendezvous with Suzy (Kara Hayward), his sulky, eye-shadowed queen in this L.L. Bean-flavored land of plaid and khaki. While adults in the fairy tale are sappy and tree-thick, at least Sam and Suzy are accorded a royal treatment.

Don’t be blinded by the glittery star court that Anderson has assembled—Bruce Willis, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, and Norton, as well as frequent star Bill Murray—as they are all overshadowed by the aimless and lackluster story. While Anderson wants to give us a preppie, pipsqueak riff on Adam and Eve, his career now looks like a fool’s paradise.