We went to see Moonrise Kingdom, Wes Anderson's latest effort, at a noontime matinee at the Arbor Great Hills yesterday. Along with the sweet and understated Safety Not Guaranteed, it turned out to be one of the best movies I've seen this year. This surprised me somewhat because, from the beginning, I've been ambivalent about Anderson's work. Bottle Rocket and Rushmore showed that he possessed a good cinematic eye, some unexpected comic timing, and a genuine love for his characters, but the former never shook off its obvious status as a freshmen effort, and the latter felt like Anderson was trying too hard to make a breakout picture. I hated The Royal Tennenbaums with a passion; ostensibly a sprawling family drama in the tradition of Robert Altman, it unspooled from its reels as messily as Paul Thomas Anderson's equally insufferable Magnolia: bloated, messy, and wearing every second of its independent cred on its sleeve. Don't even mention The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. Just don't.
Yet I've never been able to write him off completely. I see elements of not only of some of my favorite filmmakers--Altman and Stanley Kubrick for two--but also see elements of writers like Kurt Vonnegut, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Michael Chabon: the worlds he visits are skewed ever so slightly off from ours, even when they otherwise seem completely grounded. I felt this with The Darjeeling Limited, and felt it even more so with Moonrise Kingdom, which possess elements of the adventure story that Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward) reads. There isn't a single fantasy element in the entire picture, yet fantasy infuses everything from the faded green and yellow hues to the Benjamin Britten music. It's a quest movie where the object is, frankly, a bit of magic itself.
Do yourself a favor and find it in your area. Along with Safety Not Guaranteed, it's one of the best quasi-genre movies you'll see this summer.
Derek Austin Johnson has lived most of his life in the Lone Star State. His work has appeared in The Horror Zine, Rayguns Over Texas!, Horror U.S.A.: Texas, Campfire Macabre, The Dread Machine, and Generation X-ed.
He lives in Central Texas.