Seven films later, shouldn't we know more about Wes Anderson? Bottle Rocket, Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums don't seem that aged, but they are, more than a decade old each of them. Anderson is a film institution at this point -- the auteur director has helmed almost as many feature-length productions (seven to his eight) as the similarly celebrated (though wildly different, in terms of style) Christopher Nolan.
Yet, we know more about Nolan -- much, much more. We have an idea, at least, that Nolan can work within different genres and budgets, that he can execute on someone else's vision while bringing his own spin rather than exercising (or is it needing?) complete creative control over every major aspect of every film he does. (And OK, I grant you Fantastic Mr. Fox is nominally "someone else's vision," but you can't really compare it to The Dark Knight trilogy in this regard, can you?)
What I'm getting at is that Nolan has range. Anderson might too, but how the hell are you supposed to know one way or the other still, seven films later. Sure, you know a Nolan film when you see it, but that's different than a Wes Anderson film, which has become a genre all to itself at this point -- one so overbearing, so Wes Anderson-y, that it almost blots out the terrific actors he always casts.
Moonrise Kingdom, Anderson's latest release, is terrific. It's the endearing tale of two tweenish pen pals -- orphaned Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) and troubled Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward) -- who run away together on an island in New England, forcing Suzy's parents Walt (Bill Murray) and Laura (Frances McDormand), the island's policeman Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis), and Sam's Khaki Scout Master Randy Ward (Edward Norton Jr.) to set off after them and ensure they are safe.
The adults are all damaged and stricken with deep melancholia in one form or another, and this trickles down to Sam and Suzy. Both are outcasts for different reasons, but they bond, intensely, over their shared ostracism. The threat of having that bond broken, first by Suzy's parents and later by Social Services (Tilda Swinton), creates the central conflict that drives the entire film toward its memorable conclusion.
The writing is witty, Anderson's aridly dry humor peppered throughout as always. The acting is outstanding -- special kudos in that regard to Willis and especially the child actors, Gilman and Hayward, who carry the story like never before in an Anderson film. The cinematography? Well, it's nothing short of masterful. Every shot feels perfectly framed, every camera filter selected with purpose and precision.
It's just ...
Haven't I seen this movie, about six times before or so?
Quirky kids. Depressed adults. Absurdly sensible soundtrack. Brilliant camerawork. Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Yup.
I realize I'm not breaking new ground by accusing Anderson of being formulaic. I also feel more than a little silly complaining about things like sharp writing and brilliant cinematography just because I've seen them before in roughly the same package with the film atrocities unleashed every week on moviegoers nowadays.
But I also don't have much left to say about Wes Anderson's movies because I already said it about The Darjeeling Limited and The Life Acquatic With Steve Zissou and so on. Anderson is directing's answer to AC/DC or Ichiro Suzuki. He does one thing really, really well and it works for him, but, to carry the metaphor forward, I'd personally like to see something acoustic or something other than a single at this point. Seven films later and soothsayer that I am, I'm starting to get the sense that's never going to happen. Which is OK. I'll enjoy Anderson's films from here to eternity if he keeps making them like Moonrise Kingdom, I'll just enjoy them a little less each time.