A quick post on Wes Anderson – partly because I mentioned him in my most recent post, partly because he has a new film out. Super-quick summary: it’s not essential viewing, but if you liked his other stuff, you’ll probably like this one too. Slightly longer summary: I liked his other stuff, and I liked this too, but I liked it less. One reason is a danger ever-attendant on arch humour and comedy of manners, of becoming too dry, too brittle, too mannered. A second reason is a certain staleness in the Anderson Style. Intense young leads; furrowed middle-aged antagonists; epigrammatic dialogue; beautifully composed tableaux; tracking shots of small armies scuttling back and forth, marshalled by said intense leads and/or furrowed antagonists; predictably enough, they’re all here. At times it feels like watching a very skilled tribute to the cinematic oeuvre of W. Anderson.
The third reason requires a little more explanation. Basically, there seems to be little else to the film than the aforementioned Style. There is less going on here in terms of plot than in The Life Aquatic, and far less in terms of character and empathy than in Rushmore. It’s hard to say much about either of the lead characters (Sam Shakusky and Suzy Bishop) other than they wish to be together and are prepared to embark on a quixotic rebellion to achieve this. Bill Murray’s character (Suzy’s father) is a photocopy of a photocopy of his part in Rushmore.
It might seem odd that this, in and of itself, could make a film less funny, but in Anderson’s case it makes perfect sense. His humour doesn’t work by way of set-ups and punchlines in the dialogue; rather, the set-up is typically the situation itself, and the punchline will be a dry comment on proceedings. (Anderson’s best lines are asides – what is unusual is how he places them at the centre of scenes, rather than having his characters deliver them in passing.) It’s in this way that his humour is closest to that oft-used comparison, the New Yorker cartoon.
Panel cartoons don’t rely on engaging plot or characters; they’ll have just enough detail to let us place what we are seeing and who’s talking. Strip cartoons are ever-so-slightly more expansive: the first panel or two builds up an interaction between usually familiar characters, thus basically working up a little plot. Simplifying for the sake of a brief blog post, one problem with Moonrise Kingdom is the grafting of a panel cartoonist’s sensibility onto a situation which develops through character interaction, more like a strip cartoon. This wasn’t such an issue in the earlier Anderson films, because the characters and story were well-developed enough that each exchange both amused and slid the plot a little further on; and the lines (and in Bill Murray’s case, his trademark expressionless expression) were funnier for coming from a perspective that you could properly engage with. The dramatic aspects of Moonrise Kingdom are too slight to allow for that lightness. And when it’s hard to care about the characters, Anderson’s bon mots rattle around like peas in an empty tin: they make a distinctive sound, but you wouldn’t confuse them with anything that mattered too much.