Regardless of their quality, Wes Anderson’s movies are precious little contraptions. They’re like antique Matryoshka dolls encased in an eighth grader’s volcano diorama and situated in a dollhouse made of Legos and Lincoln Logs. There are small pieces everywhere, assembled just so, from tweedy costuming to crate-dug soundtrack choices to peculiarly named characters (Raleigh St. Clair; Ned Plimpton; Dignan; Oseary Drakoulias; Badger; Ari and Uzi Tenenbaum — we could go on). In making so many uniquely complex choices during his career, Anderson’s become his own brand of cliché: That’s so Wes Anderson is one of the meanest things anyone can say in Brooklyn. His seventh film, Moonrise Kingdom, which opens today in limited release, is as delicate and fussed-over a thing as he’s ever made. It’s also gorgeous, hilarious, and probably the purest distillation of his style as he’ll ever achieve. It’s a parody of itself in the best way possible.
Set against a small New England town in 1965, Moonrise follows Suzy and Sam, two misanthropic loser 12-year-olds who discover love and sex and camping and really excellent French pop music together. Along the way, they battle parents, Khaki scout masters, lightning storms, and a pretty crap rendition of Noye’s Fludde. Because he’s got himself so dead to rights here, we thought we’d point out 10 things in his work that Anderson shouldn’t consider doing again, even if we’re so happy he got them right this time.
1. Casting Bill Murray As a Depressive But Sweet Patriarch
We know, Bill Murray is a god. It is redundant to explain, but we’ll do it anyway: Given that he's genuinely fascinating and unpredictable, it’s hard to know when or where we’re going to see the man. Hey, there he is in Zombieland, playing himself before being blown to bits. And here he is as a funeral director in Get Low, an odd Southern Gothic about an old coot’s living funeral. In 2010, he was tending bar in Austin during SXSW. Last week, he was a dance choreographer. Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties? Sure, fine. This fall, he’ll be a philandering, barely walkin’ Franklin D. Roosevelt in prestige pic Hyde Park on the Hudson. Few actors on the planet — OK, none of the actors — move as fluidly and without purpose as he does. Unless Wes Anderson is making a movie. Then we know we’re going to see Bill Murray. And he’s probably going to be an unhappy husband or a dad — a withholding, selfish, sad, but ultimately sweet-natured guy. He’s played some version of this part in six of Anderson’s seven movies.
Which is not to say that Murray’s part in Moonrise is bad — anyone who’s seen the trailer knows he gets to emerge from a room, wearing nothing but patchwork pants while holding an axe and a bottle of wine, to say “I’ll be out back. I’m going to find a tree to chop down.” Murray! But because everyone sees this sort of thing coming, no one worries about dropping it in the trailer in the first place. So: No more Murray.
That said, this is worth it.
2. Setting a Movie in a Bygone, Romanticized Era
This movie is set in 1965, and it’s Anderson’s first real period piece. But they’re all period pieces, really. Anderson always apes the look and feel of his favorite films (The Royal Tenenbaums = The Magnificent Ambersons, Rushmore = Harold and Maude, et al.), so he told star Jared Gilman (Sam) to check out the 1963-set Escape From Alcatraz to get a sense of the period and the on-the-run feel of his movie. And while there are few Clint Eastwood–esque moments in Moonrise, Anderson has afforded himself the opportunity to indulge his handcrafted aesthetic. What did tent parties look like in 1965? Doesn’t matter, let’s make it all up. Next, he’s threatening a turn to sci-fi. Count us in.
At various and unnecessary points of the movie, character actor Bob Balaban (or as I like to refer to him, That Awesome Guy With Tortoiseshell Eyeglasses) appears to deliver mildly inane exposition. This is often useless, just as Alec Baldwin’s grizzly timbre was in Tenenbaums. We'll never complain about Grizzly Baldwin nor Balaban’s owlish mien. But we don’t need them, and neither does Anderson.
4. Eye Shadow–Abusing Female Leads
Kara Hayward, who plays the gruff, violent, enchanting Suzy, wears severe makeup and a crooked smile throughout the movie. We’ve seen this before. Anderson loves a Sullen Pixie Dream Girl the way Aaron Sorkin loves a self-righteous speech about dignity in the face of a crumbling society. Suzy is preposterously interesting, a troubled girl with knowing confidence, good taste in saddle shoes, and a way with a pair of left-handed scissors. (No spoilers.) And for such a young girl, she’s heavily sexualized — some critics have posited her as a precursor to Natalie Portman’s unnamed Schwartzman-torturer in Hotel Chevalier, Anderson’s short film companion to The Darjeeling Limited. Margot Tenenbaum was no different. Softhearted girls who come on like killers. Wes has a type.
Earlier this year, a clever Supercutter compiled “Wes Anderson From Above,” a compilation of the 46 composed overhead shots from the director’s films. Most of the time it features a character opening a book or examining the contents of a suitcase. It’s exactly the sort of thing we made the Internet for. Well, we’re gonna need some more cuts after Moonrise. In fact, at one point, Sam literally says to Suzy, “Let’s take an inventory,” and then the two characters pore over the contents of Suzy’s bag. From above. Rather than nudging, Anderson is throttling us in the rib with the implication. Yeah, I like to shoot images of composed things from POV. OK, you can stop now.
6. Nerd Protagonists
Suzy is a dream, but Sam is a grade-A nerd. And an orphan. And a painter. And a protector. And good at pitching a tent. And an ace Khaki scout. And seemingly a smart kid. And yet no one loves him. Until everyone starts to wonder why they all hate him. This makes no sense, but we go along with it. Max Fischer was a brat. Sam is a winner in brat’s clothing.
7. French Pop
Françoise Hardy’s 1962 “Le temps de l’amour” is Suzy’s favorite song. She steals her brother’s toy box record player before embarking on her journey to meet her beloved. They play the song and share a special moment. We’ve been here before with Anderson. Yves Montad’s voice pops up in Rushmore, while American Francophile Joe Dassin's appears in The Darjeeling Limited. But Hardy’s song pins the protagonists together in a perfect scene. He needn’t return to Paris. Unless he’s going home.
Like Stanley Kubrick before him, Anderson loves a flying fast-zoom to ramp up dramatic tension. And there is at least one scene in Moonrise Kingdom that feels like a direct callback to the infamous moment in The Shining where Shelley Duvall’s Wendy Torrance spots the ghost of Horace Derwent, a long-deceased party guest and former owner of the Outlook Hotel, receiving a blow job from a prefab furry. If you’re capable of pulling off a reference that weird, you can retire the zoom tricks.
9. Tilda Swinton
She’s in Moonrise as a character only identified as “Social Services.” The Scottish bird-lady with magical standards of human sexuality is gigantic and scary in a blue raincoat wearing the face of a very mean stewardess. Her character is just a cheap plot device, but man, Tilda quakes. Now Wes, and everyone else, should leave Tilda to her devices on Twitter.
10. Professionally Associating With Roman Coppola
After exiting 2007’s The Darjeeling Limited, most die-hard Andersonians had no idea what to think. How did their hero grow so lazy? And boring? Roman Coppola, the seed of Francis Ford and a filmmaker and producer in his own right, co-wrote Darjeeling with Anderson and co-star Jason Schwartzman, who were blamed for the awkward, inert, bro-y quality of Darjeeling. But Coppola has been redeemed! In a recent interview, Anderson credited his friend with a crucial flashback scene, one of the best moments in the movie, a hard-cutting look at a meet-cute between Sam and Suzy that provides the core of the love story. News came down this week that Anderson would once again collaborate with longtime writing partner Owen Wilson for what he described as “a Euro movie.” So now that he’s been spared, Anderson can contentedly say, “Later, Roman.”