The Curse Of Being Very Good
So, I finally saw Moonrise Kingdom this weekend and it was good. Well, actually, it was my second least favorite Wes Anderson movie. My least favorite is everyone’s least favorite: The Life Aquatic: Curse of the Steve Zou Bisou. That movie I just straight up hated. But I didn’t hate Moonrise Kingdom. Far from it. I already said it was good, OK? But I like all the other Wes Anderson movies (except Life Aquatic) more. Some people hated Darjeeling Limited, but I didn’t, I liked it, and I liked it better than Moonrise Kingdom. It’s weird how I said that it was my second least favorite, which is pretty straight-forward, but then I clearly still felt compelled to explain in detail what that means, as if it wasn’t so obvious. You guys are really tough! Ahhh! There’s no appeasing you guys! But so, here’s the thing about Moonrise Kingdom that I thought was very interesting: it would have been a much better movie if Wes Anderson hadn’t made it. Let me explain:
When the trailer for Moonrise Kingdom came out, it actually seemed like a very well done parody of a trailer for a Wes Anderson movie. The music, the picture book images, the just-so outfits, the CHARM. And the truth is, that’s because the movie itself felt like a parody of a Wes Anderson movie. It was good, like I said, but it was also very familiar. The friend who went to the movie with me pointed out that Sally was “very Margot Tannenbaum, but not nearly as interesting.” True! And there were all the familiar motifs: the somehow naive-and-yet-beautiful childish illustrations all over the place, the Ikea-catalog-caliber-perfection-(and-predictability) of every geometric object fetishization layout, the casually imploding marriage, the gobsmacked adults aiding and abetting the all-too-clever children in their more-mature-than-the-adults adult pursuits. (Speaking of being all too adult and all too clever, I have to say that I found the scenes where they were painting and dancing on the beach in their underwear made some people, hard to say which people, a little uncomfortable. Did you know the actress was only 12 at the time of filming? Eek!) The point is: it was very Wes Anderson-y, like so much.
But pretend for a second that it wasn’t. Or, at least, not “The Wes Anderson.” Like, pretend it was his first movie. Or that it was some other newcomer’s first or second movie. (In this make-believe scenario that was invented for the sake of argument, the imaginary Geist-like creator of the film would have created a Moonrise Kingdom that felt wholly original in the way that the actual Moonrise Kingdom feels wholly-Wes Anderson, the point being in this fake scenario you wouldn’t just think “oh what a rip-off of Wes Anderson.” Follow? OK great.) The movie would be great! Oh, there would still be the Chris Hansen creepiness of the underwear-boner scenes, and there would also be the simple fact that the main character seems WAY too confident, bold, and self-assured to also be a miserable and put-upon nerd orphan. But overall it would be gently funny, and visually beautiful, and an overall delight.
This, of course, is the problem with being very good. You set your own standard, and when you yourself fall below that standard, well, good luck.
I remember reading some Mindy Kaling quote during the first post-Steve Carrell season that was in response to the vague critical sense that The Office had grown tired lost its Carrellian mooring and was now firmly past its prime. She said something to the effect that if you pitched a brand new TV show that starred Ed Helms, John Krasinski, Jenna Fischer, Craig Robinson, etc, etc, that it would get picked up in a heartbeat and everyone would be excited to see it. Which is true! No one ever said The Office doesn’t have a great cast. (It also has good writing.) But at a certain point, you get tired of eating the same lunch every day, even if that lunch is FILET MIGNON (widely recognized as the finest lunch there is). This is the curse of being filet mignon.
There’s no solution to this problem. You never really gauge anything by some kind of hermetically-closed system. There’s always outside influence. Maybe you were having a bad day the day you saw/read/heard something. Maybe the waitress at the Williamsburg movie theater that serves brunch dropped too many sets of silverware during the climax. Maybe you’ve got a history of having seen that director’s other movies, and so you cannot help but gauge his new movie against the measuring stick of his previous movies and therefore find this one, despite its individual merits, to be lacking and/or vaguely recycled and/or LESS THAN.
Oh well. CURSES!