A few years ago, when I saw “Darjeeling Limited”, I expressed my concern that Wes Anderson was in danger of being entombed in his own aesthetic. I was wrong about that. By that point, he had not even reached his full potential, and he’s spent the past five years or so carefully crafting and refining the Anderson touch - carefully composed (and often symmetrical) mise en scene and camera movements, deadpan, reserved interactions (I call it “scenes delivered by telegram”), a delightful sense of wonder and whimsy (restrained wholly within production design and costume), and a pretty good sense of humor. I was wrong to think that he was pursuing a dead end, getting fat and comfortable in his own little indie world. I’ll be the first to admit I was wrong. “Moonrise Kingdom” is the apex of his aesthetic achievement. It really does tickle your senses. It’s sense of design and choreography is first rate, masterful even, and I’m sure it’s giving filmmakers everywhere a nice fat boner.
This makes it all the harder to admit how the movie is his biggest failure to date. For while he’s spent years and years perfecting the visual signature by which he tells stories, he’s allowed the emotional core of those stories to fester and rot away. How telling is it that a coming-of-age film about two young people running away together is so completely divorced of the romanticism that it’s supposed to evoke? We’re told the emotional facts of the film without earning them for ourselves: “These two are in love. It was love at first sight. They’re outcasts. No one likes them. Oh, wait, now they like them. They’ve had a sudden and completely earned change of heart.” We’re told this in deadpan dialogue, shown this in expertly crafted cinematography and production design, but never allowed the risk of experiencing it for ourselves. “Moonrise Kingdom” is supposed to have heart, but instead we’re greeted with a quirky drawing of a heart followed by a caption of what the heart is experiencing (drawn in nice calligraphy). It’s a nice drawing and everything but feels like nothing more than exercise.
Wes Anderson is fast becoming the pastry chef of filmmakers, with a certain talent for meringue, long served as a dessert, that we’re supposed to make a whole meal out of. It doesn’t matter how delightfully sinful and well crafted that meringue is. Someone ought to scold him and tell him that vegetables are part of a balanced diet, that they’re nourishing, that they’re fucking essential to feeling full and healthy. Someone ought to be the adult around here.