Roman Coppola and Wes Anderson, 2012
#2, 2012 Skandies
As most people reading this know, I am currently in the middle of rewriting my novel Ready, Okay! from scratch for the ebook edition. In my years of working on screenplays, I got accustomed to spending most of a given production cycle trying every trick in the book to cut the script down to the studio's 120-page maximum (or whatever the target number happened to be), and I initially thought I'd end up doing the same while working on the book: the published version was 389 pages long and I thought I might be able to get that number under 300. Take the bit in the hardcover version in which a boy visits a girl at work, and she tells him to come back at the end of her shift. What follows is a longish paragraph about how he kills time in the interim. Totally cuttable! Away with you! The problem is, for every such passage I cut, I end up adding two more. Right before I watched Moonrise Kingdom I was working on a new scene that takes place during a school trip to Sacramento. The conventional approach to screenwriting, which I suspect most novelists would agree with, dictates cutting straight to that scene — getting the characters to Sacramento is considered unnecessary "shoe leather". But even after all these years, my first instinct is not to cut these passages but to try to make them interesting. For instance, I wanted a sentence about the main character trying to sleep on the plane and failing, since I needed him to be exhausted during the scene to follow. So, what would be an amusing reason he couldn't sleep? Woken up by the beverage service? Not enough of an obstacle. Crying babies? Plausible, but clichéd. Then it occurred to me: the most annoying flight I can remember taking in real life featured a toddler who spent the entire descent warbling "E-I-E-I-O!! E-I-E-I-O!!" over and over at the top of his lungs. Which was exactly the sort of thing I was looking for. So I just plugged that in. I don't strictly need it, but it's just a sentence, and it makes the book that little bit more fun. In a movie it'd be a five-second shot. Except that, as noted, in most movies it would be a zero-second shot, because it would be cut.
One of the best things about Moonrise Kingdom is that it's not one of those movies. Consider the following sequence, the meet-cute for the couple at the center of the story. A boy in a scouting uniform gets bored at a church pageant, and slips outside. He walks through a large group of children in animal costumes, briefly grabbing the trunk of one of the "elephants" as he passes. He enters a neighboring building, where five children in black leotards are sitting on a staircase, tunelessly playing wooden flutes. The boy turns the corner, pausing to briefly turn on, but not drink from, a water fountain. He enters a pink hallway and looks through an open doorway. Cut to what he sees: a child in a chicken costume standing on a tall footstool, brushing his teeth. Only then does the scout proceed to the dressing room where he will meet his bride to be. You can argue that these shots are unnecessary, but strictly speaking, the whole movie is unnecessary, just like every movie ever made has been unnecessary. Ultimately, this movie is entertainment, and these shots make it more entertaining, so I am glad they were left in.
I have gathered that stuffing his movies with this sort of thing is one of the things Wes Anderson is known for, and his other trademarks are stamped all over this one as well: every shot is a tableau; the dialogue is full of droll, deadpan exchanges; Bill Murray is in it. This is the fourth one I've seen, and they all feel so similar that it was actually kind of a shock to me to realize that the stories are all quite different. This one falls squarely into the genre of soulmate porn. The bespectacled scout locks eyes with the beautiful girl in the raven costume and it's love at first sight. Normally I grumble about this sort of thing, because it seems like an artifice — real love develops over time, but time is a resource feature films have in very short supply, so in place of those weeks or months of growing affection they substitute meaningful stares. I was willing to buy it here, though. One reason was the wonderful letter-writing montage that delivers the feeling of a year's correspondence about as well as can be done in 90 seconds. Another reason is simply that Suzy Bishop is such an instantly iconic character that, even if she isn't your type — personally, I'm not really a huge fan of violent outbursts as a rule — it's easy to see why Sam the scout would find her so compelling. (Why the attraction goes both ways is less clear to me, but I don't really understand why any girls like any boys.) Here's the thing, though. I'll stipulate that Suzy and Sam are believable as soulmates… but how are we supposed to feel about that? I gather that we are supposed to find their interactions amusing, and mission accomplished there, but I also gather that they're supposed to give us the warm fuzzies, which makes me wonder how people who didn't bond with their soulmates at the age of twelve are expected to summon that kind of generosity of spirit. Every review I read talked about how Moonrise Kingdom contrasts the idealism of youth with the melancholy and disillusionment of adulthood. I'm an adult. Watching these ridiculously lucky kids pushed my melancholy and disillusionment further down the spectrum into jealousy and bitterness.
(Also, the movie spends a lot of time on a cop and a scout leader and those sections really drag.)