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Posts Tagged ‘Moonrise KIngdom’


I’ll say one thing for Catherynne M. Valente, author of The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairy Land in a Ship of her Own Making (Square Fish, 2011): given a choice of paths, she will always take the non-sequitur. Thus her spirited, often charming, and thoroughly whimsical fantasy, about a girl named September (but looks suspiciously like Carroll’s Alice) who gets transported to Fairyland by a Green Wind riding a Leopard, is that and a thousand threads more. About halfway through the book I decided to stop trying to keep track of each character and fairy object and what they might portend for her, and let the picaresque play out while I sampled Valente’s sometimes overly wrought, often tongue-in-cheek, exasperatingly yet delightfully nonsensical style that could only exist in an adult who has permanently mind-melded with her bookish inner child.

Speaking of books, I found this one in the Young Teen section of my local library, but that’s a wildly off-target notion. The language in this book is Not Teen Language, at least as conceived by the Industry (cough cough). Why, it has an adult narrator, and it’s not even first person present tense! It uses words like “velocipedes” and “gaol”—now that’s so British it’s not even funny! Okay for young adults, but then the main character hasn’t cracked 13 yet, so what’s with that? Didn’t Valente ever hear about the “MC should be at least two years older” rule for young readers?

Ah, but this book is a different kettle of spriggans. It’s too playfully fey for most Potter readers, but those fantasy consumers—mostly girls, I expect—who take delight in Valente’s hilarious mockup of Victorian fairy stories will be well acquainted with this sort of thing. You know, Capitalizing every Noun as though they were German. Anthropomorphizing EVERYthing, whether a key or a lamp. Having a conversation with Death, who turns out to be quite small and dear, really. And so on. If it’s your cup of tea, stay for the crumpets and discuss amongst your friends. One of my favorite passages for the tea set:

She [September] certainly did not see Death stand on her tiptoes and blow a kiss after her, a kiss that rushed through all the frosted leaves of the autumnal forest but could not quite catch a child running as fast as she could. As all mothers know, children travel faster than kisses. The speed of kisses is, in fact, what Doctor Fallow would call a cosmic constant. The speed of children has no limits.

After much twisting and turning, Valente does pull off a bit of a miracle, rescuing the story from a mid-story sag (I confess I put it down for several weeks, though that may have been because I, like so many unfortunates in the New World, got caught up following the events of an election Fairy Tale far darker than this book) by putting September through beautiful transformations and dangers that had me spellbound, at least for a while. Here’s from her journey aboard her makeshift raft on the Perverse and Perilous Sea:

September could see it. She did not know what she saw. That is the disadvantage of being a heroine, rather than a narrator. She knew only that a red light glowed and went dark, glowed and went dark. In the shrieking whirl of the storms, she clung to her copper wrench and steered toward the light. Rain slashed at her face. Her skin had long ago gone numb and half blue. Everything ached from wrestling the raft to stay on course. Gleam bobbed and floated up ahead, valiantly trying to show the way, but the storm air was so awfully dark and thick. Lightning turned the world white—when she could see again, September looked up and glimpsed huge holes tearing open in her orange dress. A whip of wind lashed out and finished the job: the dress ripped along the sleeves and shot off into the dark. The storm ate up September’s cry of despair, delighted at its mischief, as all storms are.

So the narrator, in spite of her overly chatty excursions and silly observations, finally gets down to business. The end is most satisfying, with a major character twist that I shan’t tell you because that would be ever so dastardly of me to present such a spoiler to those who haven’t read the book but are now inclined to do so because of this review. (Don’t forget, this is but the first in an entire series—a series, mind you!—of Fairyland adventures by Ms. Valente).

But what I take mostly take away from this amusing story is its wry humor. It’s quirky, tableau-like presentation reminds me somewhat of the movie Moonrise Kingdom—or even The Big Lebowski—in a pseudo-Victorian environment, of course. It’s all cardboard cutouts and snuggly dreams and funny diversions, but in the end it has heart, and that’s what really matters.

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Moonrise KingdomThat Wes Anderson’s latest summer film is a fable can be discerned from a number of observations about it. First, the title just sounds like a fable. Second, the story takes place in a world that is ostensibly ours, but seems to follows its own logic. Third, Anderson presents visual information in a series of carefully composed images that evoke classic folk parables, much like Japanese No dances or religious pageants. These tableaux clue us in that the characters and events exist in a storytelling plane of reality, and distinguish this movie from standard Hollywood summer comedy fare.

The first such tableau occurs at the very beginning, in which we see Suzy, a precocious girl with a disarming stare, looking out of her binoculars. This image of her gets repeated over and over throughout the story, as is the image of her three younger siblings—triplets?—playing a board game on the floor in front of her. The effect is like looking at a Renaissance painting, making the viewer part of the picture without breaking the fourth wall.

[spoiler alert ahead!]

These tableaux crop up incessantly throughout, even during action sequences. Two in particular stick out in my mind. The first is when a scoutmaster, carrying an older scoutmaster higher in the authority chain, leaps from a burning tent over a flooded river as a CGI flame bursts from the tent. The shot is framed very flat, as though we are seeing this as a stage performance, not a movie, and the flame has that ritualized look about it. The second takes place when the adult hero has climbed up to the top of a steeple to try to rescue the troubled 12-year-olds who have so determinedly evaded capture by law, scouts, and Social Services. A bolt of lightning hits the tower, but we have been prepared for this, since earlier Sam, the precocious orphan boy, also got nailed by lightning and wasn’t phased by it one bit. This time the tower gets blasted off, and the scene ends with a shot of Sam, Suzy and Bruce Willis’s sheriff character all dangling from a broken beam, linked to each other like toy monkeys. There’s no possible way for them to get down, but Anderson dismisses this as unimportant. On this island, when a defining tableau is called for, reality can be suspended.

The effect is funny, but not ROFL funny. Time and again, we’re given characters and situations that look like well-worn tropes—the clueless scoutmaster, the sadistic scouts, the adorably dysfunctional kids, the parents at wits’ end—only to have our comic expectations gently tossed aside. As the centerpiece, Sam and Suzy bring a gravitas to the screen that keeps their quirky personalities from becoming cute. It’s the kind of subtle marriage of style and substance that makes Moonrise Kingdom a tale to contemplate as well as enjoy.

Younger viewers may miss this subtlety, but the teen viewers who saw the film with me totally got it and enjoyed it. [More proof that kids don’t necessarily need to identify with older protagonists to get into a story. Hear that, publishers?]

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