There’s an orangey-red glow cast over each scene. Every shot is perfected, and each character is framed to achieve optimal aesthetic pleasure. They deliver their emotional lines with no emotion. Edward Norton is there, so is Tilda Swinton. Is this a Wes Anderson film? Clearly – but which one is it?
To watch a Wes Anderson film is to watch something so obscenely pretty and crisp and conscientiously thought out that it becomes almost irritating to watch. He has a style so easily identified by anyone who’s watched even one film, and it is entertaining to watch his personal artistic vision be explored on the screen with so much attention to every detail. The cinematography gets a 5/5, the colour palette gets a gold star, and the framing? 100%; but just because it’s pretty, doesn’t make it pointful.
I haven’t seen Anderson’s Isle of Dogs (2018)or Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009), so whether or not those animated films are any different to his live-action works will not be considered here. The first of his films I saw was The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), and it absolutely amazed me. Then years later I watched The Royal Tenenbaums (2001), and I just couldn’t wait for it to finish. Tenenbaums had that ‘je ne sais quoi’ that I’d already happily experienced in Grand Budapest, and that ‘je ne sais quoi’ transformed into ‘actually, I do know what’. Audiences want to see his films for every beautiful (yet comically peculiar) shot, containing his distinctive (and comically peculiar) characters. He focuses on the situation and environment, shifting the spotlight from intense character interactions and explicit emotions instead to the idea of the characters interactions and emotions. Moonrise Kingdom is a clear example of this, and it was probably the change of focus on the whimsical world of kids rather than impulsively eccentric adults that made me prefer this film to the Tenenbaums or even Grand Budapest.
Two young kids run away from their respective families; Sam’s Khaki Scouts troop apparently hate him enough for the orphaned Sam to run away, and Suzy is the classic misunderstood daughter in a family of males and a mother who yells orders at her through a megaphone. They both bond over their mutual feelings of beings outsiders, and decide to run off together on a journey of childhood naivety fuelled by that awkward yet sweet innocence that kids are supposed to have. Their leaving causes a stir in the quaint and timeless coastal area of 1960s New England, and as Sam and Suzy learn about growing up, the other characters affected by the situation also learn about themselves. Anderson’s style meshes well with young characters, as his whimsy and lust for adventure can match that of the kids’ childish fantasies. Anderson’s constant choice of soft orange lighting and deliberate red furniture feels like a doll-house that miniaturised humans have somehow gained access to, almost intrusively, just as the adults act in Moonrise Kingdom as they try to find Sam and Suzy and take them away from their naive daydreams.
This film does stand out against his others that I’ve seen, because his style just meshes to perfectly with the concept of childhood and the connotations of having to grow up or obey the rules of adults. However, his distinct characterisation doesn’t manage to connect the younger characters to the rest of the film. The wooden and two-dimensional dialogue (spoke with no emotion despite the words themselves being absolutely and intensely traumatising, for example) pays off as an artistic choice when the characters themselves are awkward, usually terrible, sometimes criminal – and most definitely adult. They’re older, they ‘get’ to be like that, but I’d rather see the children still be outsiders or different (even keeping the criminality, in the case of Moonrise Kingdom) but retain that fantastical whimsy that the cinematography is expressing. Although this reads like a complaint, I do still stand by Wes Anderson’s consistent and constant weird choice for, well, everything on screen. Even if some of his works are similar to the other (The Royal Tenenbaums and Grand Budapest Hotel) you cannot deny that at its core, the artistic choice is interesting and entertaining, as both a story and as an aesthetic.
Taking from French New Wave as many great directors do, Wes Anderson creates his own worlds that happily signify themselves as separate from the norm, although that doesn’t necessarily stop them from a piece of perfection, even if they technically are. It’s hard to criticise a Wes Anderson film, even if you feel a bubble of criticism in you – try and describe what you dislike in a very specific and detailed manner without thinking ‘everything is perfect but it also isn’t’ and I’ll give you the gold star I would’ve given to Moonrise Kingdom, if I could’ve figured out what made me dislike this film that is so brilliant at the same time. I wrote this review referring to a list of self-made notes on the film that contains many question marks as I tried to put my finger on what I wanted to criticise, and I think I found my way, but I was happy to read on the internet that I’m not the only one who thinks his films are simultaneously perfect and imperfect.