In Moonrise Kingdom, Watercolors Run Dry

Vibrant visuals paint a playful picture, but Anderson's flip book is two-dimensional

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Hayward and Gilman in Moonrise Kingdom.

Preceded by bewildering blogs and Tweets (and even a few genuine reviews) from Cannes (“A Tender Triumph!” “Glows in the Darkness!” “Ode to Arrested Development!”), Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom is juvenile gibberish about two 12-year-olds who get married in a Boy Scout camp that is too sexually outrageous for the preteen age group it portrays and too tween for grown-ups. Like all Wes Anderson movies, it is naïve, mannered, pretentious and incomprehensible. He co-wrote it with Roman Coppola (yikes! another Coppola!). Together they were responsible for The Darjeeling Limited, one of the worst movies of all time. This one is neither as contrived as The Royal Tenenbaums nor as moronic as The Darjeeling Limited, but its boredom quotient is still stuck in the same unbroken wave of dubious tedium Mr. Anderson is famous for. (It also features another Coppola, the creepy Jason Schwartzman.) What is it with this guy and his awful movies masquerading as “original ideas” that turns otherwise sensible critics into slobbering groupies?  

Set in 1965 at the dawn of the alleged sexual revolution, this frivolous, wafer-thin fable takes place on an island called Penzance with Gilbert and Sullivan overtones off the coast of New England, populated by troops of misfits called “Khaki Scouts” (fearing, I presume, that after one look at the script, the actual Boy Scouts of America might sue) run by idiotic scoutmasters (Edward Norton in his most embarrassing role since the ghastly Incredible Hulk and Harvey Keitel, for whom overacting is a way of life). The lovers are Sam Shakusky and Suzy Bishop (newcomers Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward), two kids who run away into the wilderness in a stolen canoe to eat jerky and play Francoise Hardy records. Well, it’s the 1960s. I guess anything is possible. Anyway, Sam is an unpopular, bespectacled, nearsighted orphan who is hated by the rest of the scouts, so nobody is looking for him. But Suzy’s parents are lawyers who, as played by Frances McDormand and Bill Murray, talk to each other on megaphones and demonstrate immediately and at all times the root cause of their child’s endless problems. Suzy drags along her little brother’s portable phonograph, two heavy suitcases filled with books and cat food, spies on everyone and everything with a pair of binoculars hanging from her neck and invites Sam to feel her breasts after skinny dipping. Together they pitch a tent on the Old Chickshaw Harvest Migration Trail. Soon they are set upon by the gnat-brained island sheriff (Bruce Willis) and the entire nine-member Khaki Scout Troop 55 from Camp Ivanhoe, all of whom fire deadly arrows and kill their pet doggie mascot by mistake. There is also a demented hag in a flaming orange wig from social services (Tilda Swinton, naturally) who wants to ship Sam off to a foster home (or worse). Before it all ends—not a moment too soon, if you ask me—prissy scoutmaster Ed Norton loses his pest control spray, his latrine-inspection detail and his short pants, while the runaway children land in another camp where the mentally challenged Jason Schwartzman enters. But wait. It’s not over yet. The insanity culminates in yet another outrageous visual.

The only thing worth mentioning about Moonrise Kingdom is the sound and art design. The sets and camerawork resemble colorful illustrations from children’s books and crayola drawings from a kindergarten art class. A red gingerbread house with ocean views abates a lighthouse that would be proud to appear in a Bette Davis movie. A field of Indian grass wafts its way in the breeze all the way to the sea. The soundtrack blares Benjamin Britten’s “Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, Op. 34: Fugue: Allegro Motto,” Mozart’s “Cosi Fan Tutti,” Saint-Saens’ “Carnival of the Animals” and “Honky Tonkin’” by Hank Williams. What any of this overdose of whimsy actually means is anybody’s guess. Pity the kid who wanders in by mistake, thinking this is a movie for children.

In all of his eccentric films, instead of structuring his adolescent fantasies into one coherent narrative, Mr. Anderson throws together lunatic fragments of surrealism that consist mainly of actors making fools of themselves. The result, in the case of Moonrise Kingdom, is what I call transcendentally brainless—an after school special aimed at asinine adolescents over the age of 40.

rreed@observer.com

MOONRISE KINGDOM

Running Time 94 minutes

Written by Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola

Directed by Wes Anderson

Starring Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward and Bruce Willis

1/4