Moonrise Kingdom

Saw the latest Wes Anderson movie last night, and walked out trying to figure out how I felt about it -- which in retrospect, perfectly sums up how I felt about it. The only theater it was showing at was a local art house, which also tells you what kind of movie it is.

Moonrise Kingdom is about two 12 year olds who run away to "elope" on an island off the coast of New England in 1965. The word "sweet" must have been used in every other review of the movie that I read. And yes, it is sweet, in large part because of the youth of the protagonists. But it is self-consciously so, which means it cloys fairly quickly.

The movie is vintage Anderson: the sets are atmospheric, the era is evoked professionally, the characters are offbeat, and it is precious but manages to escape being boring, though not by much.

Anderson, if you're unfamiliar with him, is the fellow who brought you Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, and The Darjeeling Limited. His specialty is smart, dysfunctional, oddball, alienated characters who tend to have a mildly catatonic feel to them. If The Addams Family intermarried with some nerdy MENSA members, Anderson characters would be the result.

The Boy Scouts in the movie are referred to as the "Khaki Scouts," presumably because the movie is defamatory enough that the actual Boy Scouts would have sued had they been mentioned by name.

Anderson did get the best out of his actors. Edward Norton, whose usual specialty is sleazy, was fantastic as a virtuous troop master straight out of Life Magazine circa 1965. Bruce Willis is as good as he ever gets, which isn't saying much. Bill Murray plays stuporously cynical, his specialty. Murray still can't help but try to steal every scene he's in, in which regard he's second only to Jim Carrey.

Frances McDormand, who seems to get her most prominent roles from Joel and Ethan Coen, those other proprietors of American Gothic, plays hysterical, then sympathetic. Tilda Swinton plays coldly hysterical.

Over on Steve Sailer there was an entire discussion about whether the movie is supposed to be funny. If that was the point of this movie, I totally missed it. I thought it was supposed to be sweet.

The harder question is why the movie got a 94% positive rating from the critics on Rottentomatoes.com. My guess is that most critics like to think of themselves as sensitive souls who identify with Anderson's cast of outcasts. But if you enjoy identifying with such characters, then you're not really an oddball, you're just someone who wants to think of himself that way. Which means it's just a pose, which means you're just part of the herd. Which explains the 94% positive rating. And which explains most critics.

Real oddballs don't want to be oddballs. They just are.