Wes Anderson’s style is as distinctive and recognizable as any filmmaker working today.
As Quentin Tarantino is to pop culture-laden banter and bare feet, so Anderson is to carefully framed shots, rich, colorful textures, a nostalgic ’60s/’70s atmosphere, and deadpan non sequiturs.
Every Wes Anderson movie is unmistakably his and no one else’s. He’s released seven features now, and not one of them could even charitably be called a departure. In fact, Fantastic Mr. Fox — which is both animated and significantly involved a collaborator (Noah Baumbach) — may be the most Wes Anderson film of them all. You never walk out of a Wes Anderson movie saying, “Wait, who was the director on that again?”
Now Moonrise Kingdom shows Anderson at the peak of his powers, though still firmly grounded in the techniques and idiosyncrasies that have come to define him.
Moonrise Kingdom is comprised of the very best of what Wes Anderson does. His peccadilloes are put to their best uses, and his skills at art direction, camera placement and dialogue are commandeered in support of a great story. Where The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (and The Darjeeling Limited to a certain extent) may have focused to much on Anderson’s quirks at the expense of character and story — though I like both films very much — Anderson seems to have used Mr. Fox as an opportunity to go back to basics and relearn why the characters of Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums were so beloved.
As a result, Moonrise Kingdom feels like an Anderson greatest hits volume — but not like those greatest hits that are just slapped together with a band’s 12 highest charting singles. It’s more like a “best of” that’s been carefully curated and packaged with loving attention to detail. Therefore, it contains all the most pleasing elements of Anderson’s filmography but also a charming, cohesive story and memorable characters.
Bill Murray. Jason Schwartzman. Relics and trinkets of a bygone era. A fascination with tents. Masterful use of color. A storybook/fairytale motif. It’s all here. And it feels familiar without feeling boring or repetitive, because Anderson wrote such a good script (with Roman Coppola).
The story of two misfits running away together is by turns amusing, heartwarming, heartbreaking, and engrossing. Anderson managed to get rid of the distance he has sometimes placed between the audience and his characters. That sense of detachment has been replaced by empathy and warmth, and Anderson pulled off that trick without sacrificing any of his usual humor.
Moonrise Kingdom may not be Wes Anderson’s masterpiece, but it’s not not his masterpiece. Having only seen it once so far, which gives me a skewed perspective since I’ve seen the other two films a half-dozen times each, I think Moonrise Kingdom fits squarely on the same lofty tier as Rushmore and Tenenbaums.
Anderson receives a lot of flack for not evolving. Particularly with Zissou and Darjeeling, but also with Moonrise Kingdom to an extent, critics argued that Anderson is a one-trick pony, incapable of evolution. Each of his films, the theory goes, is essentially boilerplate, with only the details changing.
While it’s certainly true that Anderson has not changed all that much over the years, and while his films share a lot of similarities, I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing.
We’re constantly asking and expecting our artists to change, grow, evolve, move. If a band creates too many similar-sounding albums, we get bored, no matter how well-written the songs may be. But we don’t ask Wes Craven to start making period dramas, so why should we ask Anderson to be something other than he is, particularly when what he is happens to be so wonderful?
Moreover, it’s not like Anderson is growing stagnant. Moonrise Kingdom, his seventh film, is one of his best, and not one of the seven is a dud. Rather than changing gears, and going from a Joshua Tree to an Achtung Baby, or a Licensed to Ill to a Paul’s Boutique, Anderson is trying to perfect what he’s already good at — he’s changing by going deeper rather than wider.
If he can keep making movies that are these good — or even 75% this good — then I don’t care if Anderson ever budges an inch. He can keep being the twee hipster that he is for as long as he wants. The constant, needy demand for growth can be as damaging to art as it is to business. Sometimes, things are fine just as they are.