Frontier Psychiatrist

Highbrow-Lowbrow Double Feature: Moonrise Kingdom and Ted

Posted on: July 9, 2012

On the surface, the new movies Moonrise Kingdom and Ted are quite different. Moonrise is a sweet, tender, and heartbreaking film directed by indie darling Wes Anderson, starring two unknown child actors, Jared Gillman and Kara Hayward. Ted is a schlock comedy, the brainchild of Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane, starring Mark Wahlberg and Mila Kunis. On Saturday, I saw both movies, a high-low double feature as much about entertainment as about beating the heat with air conditioning. As it turns out, the movies have at least 10 things in common.

10. Fantasy: Ted and Moonrise are both fairy tales. In the former, a teddy bear comes to life. In the latter, a pre-teen knight rescues his princess from her captors (parents). While both films have aspects of realism, in their worlds, anything is possible.

9. Loveable Losers. The hero of Moonrise Kingdom is Sam Shakufsy, a twelve-year-old orphan and an outcast in his Boy Scout troop. The hero of Ted is John Bennett, a former child outcast and now a 35-year-old car rental agent who refuses to commit to his successful, hot, and much younger girlfriend. (Wahlberg is 41; Kunis is 28). In their speech and attitudes, Sam and his love interest come across like adults trapped in a kids’ body, not unlike Anderson’s previous protagonists in Rushmore, Royal Tennebaums, and The Darjeeling Limited or the brilliant baby Stewie in Family Guy. Conversely, John is a kid trapped in an adult’s body, not unlike Peter Griffin, the loveable loser patriarch of Family Guy. Together, the films’ heroes represent the paradoxical trend of American culture, where kids act increasingly grownup while adults act more and more childlike. Nevertheless, the actual gap between childhood and adulthood provides both films with humor and tension.

8. Humor: Ted is filled with gags based on sex, drugs, profanity, farts and poop, plus “jokes” based on outright racism, Anti-Semitism, and homophobia. The humor in Moonrise is far subtler: a scoutmaster with a cigarette, an out-of-tune recorder ensemble in a church play, and a character named “Social Services” (Tilda Swinton). If Ted aims for belly laughs, Moonrise wants you to smile, nod, and wince. Ultimately, the films represent two poles of contemporary comedy: visceral and cerebral.

7. Insularity. Moonrise Kingdom takes place on an island isolated from the outside world. Ted takes place in Boston, an island insulated from the outside world. The settings not only provide local color—from lighthouses to Fenway Park—but also raise the dramatic stakes and add to the characters’ sense of being trapped in their lives.

6. Nostalgic Soundtracks: Like Family Guy, Ted is filled with send-ups of 80’s pop culture, including Flash Gordon, Belinda Carlisle, and Tiffany. Moonrise features a soundtrack of Hank Williams songs, including “Ka-Liga,” about a man who falls in love with an “Indian” woman.  While the latter is more earnest, both soundtracks pay homage to the music of the past even as they acknowledge their silliness. Anderson pulled the same move in Rushmore with its soundtrack of campy 60’s songs by Cat Stevens, The Kinks, and The Who.  And for anyone old enough to remember Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch, Wahlberg himself is a throwback. Come on, come on/Feel it, feel it.

5. Breaking The Fourth Wall: Neither Ted nor Moonrise lets you forget it’s a movie. In the former a voiceover narrator introduces the story and characters and sets the satirical tone. In the later, a narrator appears on screen to do the same. Like Anderson’s prior movies and Family Guy, these movies wink at the audience with varying degrees of irony.

4. Self-Reference: Similarly, both Anderson and MacFarlane nod to their own signature work. Moonrise Kingdom features a cameo by Jason Schwartzman, who played the loveable loser boy in Rushmore, and one of the three brothers in The Darjeeling Limited. Ted, the talking, pot-smoking stuffed animal, is a new version of Brian the alcoholic talking dog in Family Guy. (McFarlane does the voices for both; in the film, Ted makes a joke that he “sounds like Peter Griffin.”) And if Moonrise looks like all of Andersons’ prior films, there’s a reason: Cinematographer Robert D. Yeoman. Like breaking the fourth wall, self-reference is another way to wink at the audience, and to establish an auteur’s voice, or more cynically, his “brand.”

3. Demographics. Although Moonrise is highbrow and Ted is lowbrow both seem to aim at boys and men between the ages of 16 and 40. That’s not to say that there aren’t things in both films for women to appreciate, as evidenced by the mixed-sex crowds in the theater this weekend. But in a marketplace where everything from toys to cars to music is gendered, these movies seem firmly in the “bro” camp. Or maybe it’s just that my girlfriend enjoyed both less than I did.

2. Sentimentality. As in all his past films, Anderson tugs on the heartstrings with the sad poignant moments of childhood. And for all his absurdity, MacFarlane does, too.  John gets his wish on Christmas day, calls Ted call his “thunder buddy for life,” and wins back his lover by singing the theme song from Octopussy, the song from their first date (See: Nostalgic Soundtracks). Even more sentimentally, he shares the stage with Norah Jones. (Both movies might as well be subtitled: “Come Away With Me.”)

1. Love Conquers All. It’s not a spoiler to say that both Moonrise Kingdom and Ted are love stories in which boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl again. Both protagonists have their soul mates to weather literal and figurative storms. And like Shakespearean comedies, both end in marriage. While arguably cliché, the formula has survived centuries for a reason: it works.

Keith Meatto is editor in chief of Frontier Psychiatrist. He recently reviewed new novels by Leni Zumas and Mandy Keifetz. He now wishes he had written about the double feature he saw last July: Horrible Bosses and Harry Potter. Also, he cannot wait for The Great Gatsby, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and a soundtrack with Frank Ocean.

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8 Responses to "Highbrow-Lowbrow Double Feature: Moonrise Kingdom and Ted"

Reblogged this on The Nerd Word and commented:
I’ve been meaning to see “Ted,” but I’ve never even heard of “Moonrise Kingdom.” I MUST see THAT!

This is a brilliant idea. I can watch a deeply touching and intelligent film, then have all my learned sentiment and sensibility driven out of ny brain by watching the movie I woukd rather see if I was home alone. It also would give me, hypothetically, brain ammunition for executing meaningful conversation with either my high-brow or low-brow acquaintances. Of course, I would need to scrounge up $30 to make an evening event of this.

middle age driftless dickhead unable to commit to a younger hot honey? good lord, not another one of those.

[…] (Warning! This review contains spoilers. Click here for a comparative analysis of Moonrise Kingdom and Seth MacFarlane’s Ted) […]

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[…] happy to be writing about music after a stretch writing about movies: Oliver Stone’s Savages, Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom and Seth MacFarlane’s Ted, and the documentary Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry  He still has Nostalgia ULTRA in heavy rotation. Share […]

[…] in chief of Frontier Psychiatrist. He likes to write about two things at once, including the movies Ted and Moonrise Kingdom, new novels by Leni Zumas and Mandy Keifetz, and a documentary about Ai Weiwei and an […]

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