September 22 2021
10:32 AM
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Criterion Collection Reviews: Moonrise Kingdom
Kozak rating: 2 stars

There's a reason I call Wes Anderson "The AC/DC of hipster cinema". As enjoyable as his unique style may be, and as hypnotic to those who can intimately tune into it, you will not find much versatility in his work. It makes sense that Anderson is one of the most parodied contemporary filmmakers, along with Michael Bay and Tim Burton, since even the most casual film buff can call his name out upon watching ten random seconds of any of his films. His 2012 film Moonrise Kingdom came out at a time when I was suffering from Wes Anderson fatigue, and therefore found every frame to be just as predictable and grating as a Transformers film. Even though I enjoyed The Grand Budapest Hotel as a gloriously unhinged comedy, I have to admit that my feelings towards Moonrise Kingdom didn't change upon second viewing, so I'm reposting my original review at the end of this article.

But first, let's deal with Criterion's Blu-ray release of the film. It's no secret that Criterion has an ongoing love affair with Anderson's work, having released every single film he's done, with Grand Budapest surely on their roster for next year. In fact, I don't know why any studio bothers releasing their own home video versions of Anderson's work.

Aside from the whimsical French new wave influence and a strict affinity for symmetrical framing, the one primary quality of Anderson's cinematic approach is his obsession with the color yellow. This is brought to near absurd levels as Moonrise Kingdom's Anderson-approved new 1080p transfer jacks up the yellows even more than the previous home video release in order to create a gaudy-looking experience. I'm sure this was not Criterion's fault, since they were aspiring to stay loyal to the director's vision, but this transfer makes the film look like an obvious Anderson parody than a movie by the director himself. Hell, even the Criterion logo is in yellow this time around. It feels like Anderson is trolling us at this point.

The extras are even more impressive than the high quality of supplemental material we expect from Criterion. Most of the making-of documentaries contain the same dry whimsy as Anderson's narrative approach, the most fun of them is a short behind the scenes doc narrated by Bob Balaban, who also played the film's narrator. A tour of the set by Bill Murray is better than the film itself. Moonrise Kingdom will be available on DVD and Blu-ray from Criterion on September 22.

Here's my original review:

There should be a new condition in medical books called Wes Anderson Fatigue. If it ever makes it in, I can be their first test subject. I remember watching Rushmore in 1998, having no idea who directed it, and I remember being impressed by its sheer creativity and quirky energy. Then came 2001's Royal Tenenbaums, which put Wes Anderson on the map as one of the most innovative new American directors out there. It stank a little too much of a French New Wave influence but it also had a brutal and zany sense of humor that made it feel fresh.

After Life Aquatic, the fatigue started setting in. The same endlessly whimsical characters, the same yellow color pattern, the same ironically detached approach to dysfunctional family dynamics. Do you want Bottle Rocket on a train? How about The Darjeeling Limited? Do you want an animated version of The Royal Tenenbaums? Why, here's Fantastic Mr. Fox. By the time we get to Moonrise Kingdom, I'm sorry but I'm Wes Anderson'ed out. I give up my hipster glasses, my French records and throw everything yellow out of my house.

Many modern American filmmakers can be accused of producing the same film over and over again. But at least Kevin Smith took a chance and went with a completely different route with the intense thriller Red State. Even Tarantino managed to squeeze out a film with, gasp, actually relatable characters who you could believe might exist in real life, with 1997's Jackie Brown. But with Anderson, his precious retro 45-RPM record player keeps playing the same track.

An intellectually complex yet emotionally hollow, sarcastic dysfunctional family? Check. Obscure French songs on the soundtrack? Check. Unevenly framed static shots with superimposed yellow text? Check. 10-year-old kids who talk like 22-year-old philosophy students? Check. Worshipping at the altar of The Gods of Whimsy Overload? Check. And how about YELLOW!? Do we have enough YELLOW!? If possible, every single shot, every possible graphic, everything, has to be YELLOW! I watched Moonrise Kingdom on my projector and after a while I was afraid the bulb was going to run out of yellow (I know projectors don't work like that, I'm just trying to make a point.)

Of course Anderson's love of The French New Wave has always been evident. What Spaghetti Western is to Tarantino, French New Wave is to Anderson. I was watching Louis Malle's 1960 film Zazie Dans Le Metro a couple of weeks ago, which is one of the only films I can think of that actually out-whimsies any Anderson film by a long shot.

There it was in front of me, Anderson's entire style of filmmaking, perhaps a bit more broad and shallow, made nine years before he was born. All I'm saying is that like Tarantino, Anderson is not a wholly original filmmaker, but rather an emulator and reproducer of style, like a DJ who finds obscure tracks at record store bargain bins and samples them together. Creative, for sure, but can he really be called a musician?

Moonrise Kingdom is an entertaining film, no doubt about that. It's fairly short, and is cast perfectly. The two lead children, the maturity of their dialogue notwithstanding, are rather adorable and the adult cast is, as always with names like Bill Murray and Frances McDormand, are on top of their game. If this is your first excursion into Wes Anderson whimsy-land, go for it.

There are of course various scenes that ring true and are genuinely sweet. The central scene at the cove with the two young lovers, the awkward way they discover each other's bodies is handled with a brazen yet compassionate direction. Pretty much every scene that involves these two characters reminded me of the most adorable parts of Zazie.

But I'm still tired and worn out. I'm tired of seeing obvious practical effects and miniature shots because they're supposed to be delectable. I'm tired of hearing things like Anderson decided to shoot the film on 16mm because, why, he thought it would be cute? What is this, Cinematography 101? I guess I should feel grateful that he didn't shoot on a wind-up Bolex camera.