Sunday, July 1, 2012
Into the Woods (Moonrise Kingdom)
All of this could be interpreted as allegorical, certainly, but I don't want to give the impression that that's Anderson's only objective, or even his primary one. Moonrise Kingdom creates a world too rich to be just that; it's the filmmaker's most fully realized universe since his parallel New York in The Royal Tenenbaums. On the commentary track for that movie, during the early scene where Pagoda tells Royal about his estranged wife's new suitor, Anderson said that he deliberately positioned Kumar Pallana so that he blocked the Statue of Liberty in the distance, wanting to avoid any recognizable landmarks in his version of the city (which for some reason pissed off Gene Hackman, when the actor realized what he was doing). The New England of Moonrise Kingdom is completely fictional (though hilariously detailed by Bob Balaban's exposition-loaded Narrator) the actual turmoil of the decade far away, yet it's his most emotionally connective movie since Tenenbaums, the last film Anderson wrote with his original screenwriting partner Owen Wilson (who has, of course, continued to act in most of his movies since). After Wilson came collaborations with Noah Baumbach, whose own films I've admired yet who seemed to bring out in Anderson an airless, inert quality and sourness of spirit in The Life Aquatic and parts of The Darjeeling Limited. If Baumbach and Anderson appeared a bad match, Roman Coppola, who co-wrote Moonrise Kingdom (and formed part of the trio for Darjeeling), looks like a better one, leavening the darker themes - or perhaps synthesizing them - with sweetness and humor.
Auteur that he is, Anderson has received the usual round of stirring defenses from his most fervent admirers, even when it's clear that this time he doesn't need them. The most tedious have taken umbrage with those who don't like the movie "the right way"; others, responding to the criticism that the director needs to do something different, have trotted out the "What did you expect?" argument - specious, among other reasons, for suggesting that for a filmmaker, predictability is a virtue. While it's true that all the recurring methods and obsessions are all in place - deadpan dialogue, startling bursts of violence amid comic-strip paneling, the importance of bric-a-brac, the dichotomy of childhood dreams with adult disappointment - I think that Anderson is using them differently than he has before. (I almost wrote "testing them," but that would imply a strain that's nowhere evident in this seemingly effortless movie.) His films have treated kids and grown-ups with equal respect, all part of the same cultural framework. Here, more than any of his previous works, the spheres of each are blended together - sometimes comically (the sight of Keitel in khaki shorts), sometimes movingly (a bedside heart-to-heart between McDormand and Murray), always in perfect harmony.
So buoyant and delicate is Moonrise Kingdom that watching it reminded me of Michael Sragow's description of Wonder Boys: "(I)n its free spirit and avalanche of blending tones, it feels more organic than virtuosic... The oddball precision of the moviemaking makes you feel as if you're laughing in a dream - and you don't want to wake up." By now "dreamlike" has been applied to so many movies that the word has lost nearly all meaning. Yet Robert Yeoman's misty, soft-focused, green-brown palette - easily the finest work of his career - recalled for me another film: of all things, that "beautiful pipe dream," Robert Altman's western McCabe & Mrs. Miller. "I try to clutch the images to me even as they seem to evaporate like smoke," Charles Taylor said of McCabe. Moonrise Kingdom had the same effect - conjuring experiences I've never had, memories I never knew I wanted or needed.