Here’s the thing… I like Wes Anderson, I really do. I think he’s an extremely talented, quirky fellow who makes entertaining, gorgeous cinematic experiences. Unfortunately, I have this sneaking suspicion that instead of being the next Scorsese or Coppola, Anderson could easily become the next Tim Burton – or the hipster, Instagram version of Zack Snyder.
I know, I know – blasphemy, right? Before you set fire to your vintage collection of Kinks records and hurl Criterion Collection DVDs of Rushmore and Bottle Rocket at my face, understand that I enjoy Anderson’s entire filmography (including that brilliant American Express commercial). All I’m saying is, the guy has been constantly criticized for putting style over substance and maybe it’s time we all admit that there’s some truth to that.
I loved Moonrise Kingdom. I think it’s one of the best films of the year – but, at the same time, I experienced a bit of deja vu – like I had seen this movie before. And then I realized I had. I saw it in 2009 when it was called The Fantastic Mr. Fox and before that when it was called The Darjeeling Limited, and so on and so forth.
It’s a pretty movie, composed of a beautiful palette of colors, that’s all about a dysfunctional family with upper-class “white people problems.” Maybe Wes Anderson just has an extreme amount of white guilt and he’s trying to exercise it through a series of Instagram slideshows set to whimsical French music and ’60s rock n’ roll. Maybe he’s trying to tell us that money can’t buy happiness, and it often creates a turbulent, resentful family dynamic that can only be resolved by unabashed quirkiness.
Only in a Wes Anderson movie can characters leave the real world to go on a month-long train ride through India to find themselves and resolve their daddy issues while still finding time to be completely selfish and silly. Only in Moonrise Kingdom could we sympathize for the privileged child of an upper-class family of lawyers who have a home on a secluded island. Doesn’t it strike anyone as extremely self-centered of Kara Hayward‘s Suzy to actively seek out an orphan to up her cool factor? It’s like saying, “Hey I have several black friends!” The orphan in question, Sam (Jared Gilman), is already a fully-formed adult in his pre-teen adolescence and while the kid’s performance is terrific, the character seems like nothing more than a quirky collector’s item for a depressed-for-no-reason rich kid.
Again, I know I’m bashing Anderson pretty hard here – but I do it out of love, because I do sincerely enjoy all of his films – and I think Moonrise Kingdom might be his best work since The Royal Tenenbaums, but what does that mean exactly? It’s like saying Sweeney Todd was the best Burton film since Edward Scissorhands. Even The Fantastic Mr. Fox felt like Anderson’s stop-motion answer to A Nightmare Before Christmas or Corpse Bride.
What once felt fresh and original with 1996’s Bottle Rocket and ’98’s Rushmore has become it’s own filmic meme – which is no more evident than the recent “Bill Murray Walking In Slow Motion” parody video you’ve seen floating around the net. When it comes to artists, whether they’re writers, comedians or filmmakers, there’s this fine line of stepping outside your comfort zone without losing your unique style – of trying to reinvent yourself without alienating your audience.
I think Wes Anderson is so consistent in his style and storytelling that he appears complacent – in that way that Tim Burton continues to make gothic love letters to pale-faced, black-haired emo kids and Zack Snyder shoots super-saturated action sequences in particle-enriched slow-motion.
With Moonrise Kingdom, Anderson has perfected his style and provided a humorous, endlessly silly tale of innocence, love, and family – but it might be time for him to consider stepping outside the limitations he’s placed on himself and find new stories to tell that don’t involved rich, selfish, altogether dysfunctional white people struggling with the most basic human emotions.
Then again, our own Three-D has written a fantastic review of Moonrise Kingdom that praises the film for everything I’ve condemned it for… and yet I wholeheartedly agree with him. That’s the Wes Anderson effect, I guess – a quirky, visually-pleasing contradiction. Is he the next Tim Burton or the ironic mustache-wearing Hipster facsimile of Stanley Kubrick? I’ll leave that for you to decide.
Ooo, and next time you watch one of those Criterion Collection DVDs or see Moonrise Kingdom in theaters, be sure to take a Wes Anderson bingo card with you to keep track of all the quirkiness, courtesy of Slate’s Browbeat Blog:
Bonus: Count how many times I was forced to use “quirky” or a form of the word in this article… [the number is really obscure, you’ve probably never heard of it]