Sunday, June 10, 2012

Moonrise on Wes Anderson by Stephanie Huettner

Believe it or not, it’s been sixteen years since Wes Anderson released his first theatrical film. Bottle Rocket announced him to a limited indie audience as a new voice in cinema and won him the Best New Filmmaker award at the MTV Movie Awards. As silly as a distinction from the network that is currently airing “Jersey Shore” may sound now, MTV used to be pretty good at predicting new filmmaking talent. Fellow winners of this award include Christopher Nolan, Spike Jonze, and Sofia Coppola. His most recent film, Moonrise Kingdom recently premiered as the Opening Night Film at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival.

The main criticism I hear of Anderson’s work is that it is repetitive, mostly in style. This critique is, to me, actually a compliment of sorts. A young writer/director who has his own self-possessed style immediately out of the gate is the something that makes every wannabe director in film school seethe with envy. The lingering static shots, the almost universal asocial behavior of characters, the picture-perfect set pieces; it just wouldn’t be a Wes Anderson movie without these things. In truth, the actual content of the films differs wildly from one to the next; a buddy road movie, a tale of teen angst, a family drama, a deep sea diving adventure, an international travelog with estranged brothers, a groundbreaking animated children’s film, and now, a coming-of-age story about first love. Throughout all of these can be found a menagerie of strange but endearing social misfits.

Moonrise Kingdom, for whatever reason, has thus far been universally successful with both critics and audiences, receiving rave reviews and breaking box office records for limited release films. The reasons for this upsurge in popularity for Anderson are a mystery to me. Perhaps there’s a successful Twitter campaign that I’ve been missing. In any case, it’s possible that Anderson will have his most financially successful film since his third effort, The Royal Tenenbaums. This isn’t to say that I didn’t like Moonrise Kingdom, which I most definitely did. However, I’ve liked all of his films and that hasn’t made everyone go see them. Perhaps it’s the sheer cuteness of Moonrise Kingdom’s plot that has theater-goers flocking to it. Two young kids in love, surrounded by a troupe of wilderness scouts, and Edward Norton uttering lines like “Jiminy Crickets.” Yes, cute it most certainly is. Don’t think old Wes has gone soft, though. There’s still the same dry wit and pregnant comedic pauses which fall flat with some and send others into torrents of giggles. I experienced this firsthand when my mom, brother, cousin, aunt, and I went to see The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. My brother, cousin, and I were in fits of laughter the whole time, while our parents insisted that it had some mildly amusing moments at best. Their lackluster response didn’t faze us one bit. We got it, and that’s all that mattered.

One thing none of Anderson’s films has failed to is delight me upon repeated viewings. Zissou has gotten better and better in my personal esteem, I once watched Rushmore several times on a loop in one day, and The Royal Tenenbaums went from my favorite movie of that year to one of my favorite movies of the decade. “His movies are so full. They aren’t just made with two turnarounds to get us to act 2 and act 3. He gives us fully rewatchable stories where no matter how many times you watch them you can still be surprised.” This came from my I Luv Video coworker, Steve Quinlan, while we watched our third Anderson film in a row at work. Steve and I see pretty much eye-to-eye where comedies are concerned, and the above reasoning is why. Most comedies are compiled of Big Funny Moments, often built around otherwise pedestrian dialogue and halfway developed characters. Even comedies that I enjoy immensely upon first or second viewing rarely pull many satisfying laughs from me after that. Anderson’s comedies, I think of them all as comedies among other things, are built instead upon hundreds of Little Funny Moments with no dead space in between.

What truly sets all of Anderson’s work apart from the hordes of people trying to master the art of twee is an unshakable emotional core. There are many who think the opposite is true, finding his work to be all about the surface image. While the visuals certainly play a huge role in all of the movies, as mentioned before, I’ve never left one without feeling moved in some way. For all of his bastardly behavior, Royal Tenenbaum loves the hell out of his family. In spite of his aloofness, Steve Zissou is deeply affected by everything going on around him. And, if nothing else, I find the drowning scene in The Darjeeling Limited unfailingly stirring every time. Really, folks, if you can sit through the end of Life Aquatic with the sweet strains of Sigur Ros playing over visions of a jaguar shark swimming over a miniature yellow  Zissou submersible without feeling the slightest swelling of emotion, well then we are just wired differently.

I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to change anyone’s mind about Anderson who doesn’t like him, but I suppose that’s never really mattered to me. I get it, and that’s all that matters.


hidden staircase said...

recently went on a john candy binge (needing comedy)...and which led me to a bill murray binge, thus leading to watching a lot of wes movies. i agree that they just get better with repeated viewings. hadn't seen 'rushmore' since it came! so good...and my current fave 'the life aquatic' just got warmer and more complex somehow. watched the interview with bill by charlie rose where he talks about reading the script and agreeing to do it just knowing that wes was talented and with a unique vision. i like when directors we like use the same actors in multiple films. enjoyed 'moonrise kingdom' and wonder if it will get better too in a few years. my theory of why it's more popular is due to 'fantastic mr. fox' bringing in a lot of folks who didn't know wes but like 'animated'/puppet movies...but who knows. such a unique style he has. will be interesting to see what comes next. more bill please!

Joshua Blevins Peck said...

Those are two fun binges to go on! New Bev has a midnight screening of THE GREAT OUTDOORS--wish you were in LA to see it w/ me as there's no way SJ will go to that. I might go loner to get some JC action!

hidden staircase said...

by the way...i meant - when bill read the script for 'rushmore'...he agreed without question. also, i guess he still hasn't seen 'bottle rocket' -- he's been sent multiple copies and originally, wes wanted him in it but bill's agent never forwarded script to him.

THE GREAT OUTDOORS was the one JC i did NOT enjoy...only because dan akroyd's character is so annoying! wild to see annette bening in that. JC always good to watch though! You ever see 'delirious' or 'who's harry crumb?' also...CANADIAN BACON!!!

bill binge is still going. haven't seen KINGPIN or LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS! did see 'ghostbusters 2' and it was decent and others i'd never seen but my newest fave bill movie is QUICK CHANGE! great dark comedy based in NYC from 1990 that he co-directed. have you seen it?

Joshua Blevins Peck said...

QUICK CHANGE based on a novel from Tulsan Jay Cronley--as is FUNNY FARM--and is a very underrated comedy. KINGPIN is a foul-mouthed bowling movie w/ Murray utilizing the monster of all movie combovers!

hidden staircase said...

quick change: oh wow...yeah, underrated! i love when bob elliot as the bank guard tries to keep bill in clown gear out, bill pulls his gun and puts his big clown shoe in the door and bob says 'what the hell kinda clown are you?' clown bill says 'the cryin' on the inside kind, i guess.' absolutey hated 'little shop'...but me and musicals don't get along. super brief JC bit and bill bit was funny. i don't think library even has KINGPIN so it's to scarecrow for that! i've heard about this combover.