There’s a particular sect of artists of which Wes Anderson is almost certainly a member. A group of individual creatives defined almost exclusively by their style, while their substance grudgingly takes a backseat. This “style-first” aggregate often bears long-lasting fruit, as consumers have no trouble making quick reads on the group members’ products, and establish their obsessive fandom at the earliest possible stages of a career. Artists like Andy Warhol, David Bowie, Andy Kaufman, Dave Eggers, Nicki Minaj, et al, laid the foundation of their careers with a style that, at first glance, is primarily distinct for its “newness.” Certainly the question of content is raised, though only after plenty of gushing conversations about the artist’s “distinctive voice.” This has always been the dilemma for Wes Anderson, a director known universally for his visual style. Because while audiences spend countless hours discussing the color palettes and the symmetry and the fluid sets, a collection of wonderfully human characters parades right by them.
Moonrise Kingdom is Anderson’s seventh feature length film, and could be the one that forces fans to reconsider the widely-held notion that there is something counterfeit about Anderson’s (and Co-Writer Roman Coppola‘s) stories and characters. Centered on the fictional island of New Penzance in New England, Moonrise tells the story of Suzy and Sam (Kara Hayward & Jared Gilman), two young loners whose cosmic connection and lovers’ flight result in a wild goose chase around the island. With a terrible storm approaching, the assembled adults tasked with caring for these two elopers–the girl’s parents (Bill Murray & Frances McDormand), the boy’s scoutmaster (Edward Norton), and the island’s Sheriff (Bruce Willis)–search New Penzance in desperation, all the while lamenting their own insecurities and shortcomings.
Certainly this film and this script fall in with Anderson’s oeuvre. If anything he seems to be indulging his own habits more than ever before. I read a review that said Moonrise Kingdom is what it would look like if a fan tried to make a Wes Anderson movie, and while the derision is misguided, it’s not wrong to say that this is the most Wes Anderson-y Wes Anderson movie to date. And for some reason, when Anderson satisfies his own aesthetic appetite, people tend to get annoyed. Critics are obviously entitled to their (often inexplicably vitriolic) opinion that Anderson is a one-trick pony, but this is a hugely detrimental oversimplification. Wes Anderson has always built stories around real emotions, and far more often than not his (admittedly technicolored) characters are tasked with bringing these emotions to the fore. In Moonrise, we meet an array of characters with an array of authentic motivations and fears. The dialogue may not always jive with our reality, and the omnipresence of Anderson’s theatricality can be a hindrance to the type of immersion so many theater-goers are looking for, but to say there isn’t truth here is simply wrong.
Take Suzy and Sam, Anderson’s Romeo and Juliet and a pair of characters that may give us more insight into the Writer/Director than any he has written. Suzy and Sam are defined by their black sheepedness, shunned by adults and children alike, and the portrayal of this not-at-all uncommon affliction feels awfully authentic. But it’s the next step in that relationship that pays the most dividends to the story. Suzy and Sam’s courtship and adamantine connection give Anderson the chance to delve deeply into the elegant absolutism of prepubescent love; a feeling most everyone can remember vividly, and the best evidence that Wes Anderson is wholly capable of writing from the head and the heart. In a particularly genuine moment, Suzy and Sam undertake the daunting task of juvenile hanky-panky, and while the action itself is appropriately innocent, the scene nonetheless carries the sort of gentle intimacy only ever delivered by directors who are fully tapped into their characters.
Which, I guess, is the point. Sure, Wes Anderson’s devotion to detail results in a filmgoing experience heavy on visual stimuli, occasionally to the point of distraction. But that same meticulousness carries over to all elements of his films, and results in a menagerie of poignant characters and convincing relationships. In Moonrise Kingdom we find adults caught up in their own uncertainties to the point of indolence, and children driven to action by the strength of their convictions. And in neither case do the characters seem disingenuous. They are heady, and complex, and motivated by real passions. Certainly there’s a maturity present in Moonrise you won’t find in Bottle Rocket, but of course there is. There’s also a joyfulness in that early film that feels tempered here. But in both films–in all of his films–there is a clear articulation of humanity. Wes Anderson is the model for evocative eccentricity, with his colorful high-waters and androgynous haircuts, but the reality is far more familiar: A storyteller constantly reaching for the nuances of the human condition, eager to reveal us to ourselves.