Wes Anderson is a filmmaker who has never quite done it for me. His films are perfectly constructed, and that is the problem. With each facial movement perfectly executed; each strand of hair on an actor’s head perfectly in place, his films are crafted in such a manner that they feel, at times, lifeless. At his best, his films have energy and craftsmanship. At his worst, they feel pretentious and redundant.
Waiting for his latest film, Moonrise Kingdom, to begin, I was worried it would be another tired journey into the precocious mind of Wes Anderson. While it certainly was a journey into his mind, it was nothing but pure cinematic joy. This film is not just a change of pace for Anderson, but an example of a master of cinema at his best.
His style is instantly recognizable, and lately, often imitated. The problem with his style is that with so much care put into each frame, the heart can be lost. With Moonrise Kingdom, each perfectly constructed frame is brimming with heart and love for a time that he clearly longs for. The film is set in the 1960s, and follows a troubled boyscout, played by newcomer Jared Gilman, as he runs away from camp with a local girl.
The film, shot on super16mm, looks almost impossibly beautiful. It has the aesthetics of a wonderfully illustrated picture book. At times, you wonder how the film is not hand-drawn. It is nostalgic for a time when adventures in the woods were all important, and love at first sight existed.
The aesthetics of the film are not all that is impressive, as just about everything else works together to make this one of Anderson’s most accomplished and enjoyable works. He manages to get fantastic performances from the child actors, who are never annoying but instead sweet, funny and heartbreaking. Maybe even more impressive, is the fact Bruce Willis gives his best performance in years. Playing a lonely police officer, Willis gives an emotionally raw and touching performance—a nice change of pace for an actor who rarely challenges himself.
For a filmmaker who I find often too preoccupied with how his films look, Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom is one of the most emotionally effective films I have seen in years. Unexpectedly, I found myself near tears as the film came to a close, realizing just how powerful a film it really was. With this wonderful film, I now know why fans of Anderson’s style defend him so whole-heartedly. I just hope he continues to layer heart into each frame of his future films.