I want to make a point about all Wes Anderson movies being R. The point I'm trying to make is that The Fabulous Mister Fox is actually an R-rated movie disguised as a G-rated movie. I don't know if this is the best place to argue this point. Most of the time, the Wes Anderson films are only R for language and that language is fairly tame compared to some of their counterparts. This one has a character who is nude for a chunk of the movie. There's also some comedic violence. Regardless, I'm cool with this one being R.
DIRECTOR: Wes Anderson
It's kind of amazing that I haven't reviewed a Wes Anderson movie at this point. It's a really weird thing because I really like Wes Anderson. In college, like most snobs in college, I kind of just had his movies on a loop in my dorm. It's because I was terrified of experiencing new things, but still wanted to be more pretentious than the masses. That's a little unfair to attach to Anderson and his films because they really are great films. But I also like comfort zones like most people. Probably the basis of this website and my obsession with film comes from the need to expand my knowledge of art film beyond Wes Anderson. (The fact that I refer to Wes Anderson as an art house director is such a simple concept at this point that I can't believe I wrote it or am currently discussing it.) But, besides The Grand Budapest Hotel, I haven't really watched a Wes Anderson movie. But there was going to be a podcast, so I decided on watching one that I didn't remember too well. That happened to be The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.
I remember that this is the one that a lot of people jumped off. I always found that odd because I remembered really loving this one. I thought it was the funniest of the films up to that point. I'm kind of right about that. But "funniest" doesn't always equate with "best." Anderson and (then new) collaborator Noah Baumbach wrote a really funny script. On top of that, they let Bill Murray off the chain. Up to this point in the Anderson movies, Murray had been playing a far more straight-laced character, different from his traditional bill (murray) of fare. I know that he had a large part in Rushmore, but most of the jokes aren't on the part of Bill Murray. When they are, he's not giving his traditional delivery. The Life Aquatic has Bill Murray in normal form. He's playing that smug character that we've seen time and again. In every version, there's the deadpan. But when given complete freedom, he's more playful with that, often getting frustrated. Now, there's so much I want to look at in terms of what this does to the film. Anderson is infamous for doing flat affect. His characters interact with the world from a distanced perspective. It's not to say that they don't feel the world like people do. It is simply that the characters' outward reactions are always somewhat skewed by Anderson's lens. The Life Aquatic experiments a little with this formula. It is Murray with his range of emotions in a world that doesn't act like he does. This makes the movie funnier, but also tends to pander more than the other movies do. I also think that this is the beginning of the era of Wes Anderson doing an impression of himself. It is really telling that Noah Baumbach is attached to this film because I always thought that Noah Baumbach was kind of reactionary to the success of Wes Anderson. I really think that Anderson hit his apex with The Royal Tenenbaums. This is the follow-up. I don't know if he could capture the same magic. That said, The Life Aquatic is a better movie than most people give it credit for.
Fundamentally, this is a movie about a guy coming to terms with both regrets and aging. I know that this isn't a new theme and lots of movies deal with it. But this might be a commentary more about Murray's other characters having to grow up. I don't know if this is done on purpose, but it feels like this is the logical end to Murray's characters from Stripes or Ghostbusters. Murray's Zissou is cocky and successful for years. Those lovable rascals tend to thrive in their films because of their confidence and cockiness. They rarely learned their lessons. If Zissou is those characters grown up, there had to be a period of diminishing returns. Zissou is a has been, still living by the old rules. By having Ned show up in his life, Zissou has to make a series of subconscious choices that force him to change his outlook. He never becomes a different person. If anything, Zissou simply shifts his perspective. His actions of making his films isn't what is wrong, but it is the focus of those films that becomes the center. I love that Anderson makes the audience and Zissou himself question the events surrounding Esteban's death. It makes us question the fundamental morality of Steve Zissou. Steve is a bad guy. He's not a healthy individual, but there is a fine line between what is respectable and was is the realm of scoundrel. Keeping that secret until the end makes the movie about faith in a weird way. (I feel I left the intellectual reservation long ago.) Anderson keeps feeding us these insecure personality traits for Zissou. His fear of being called father while simultaneously having Steve yearn for Ned to think of him as a father is very telling. He's the manchild. He wants the adulation without the responsibility. That is Peter Venkman. That is John from Stripes. It is only through the tribulations of this movie that he actually learns anything that changes him to shift his outlook. It's a very sobering film that works on a whole bunch of levels. But that said, it still is very funny. I am starting to call Jeff Goldblum our national treasure because he's perfect in this. I know that he's played comedic roles before, but it is this Jeff Goldblum that I like seeing in movies. Putting him across from Bill Murray and the cast.
Honestly, I'm starting a new paragraph about how much I love the cast. The cast is everything I've ever wanted. I wrote my review of The Florida Project talking mostly about how much I loved Willem Dafoe in that role. I'm so sick of seeing him as the bad guy. It's mainly because he makes such a good alternative to that character. Klaus is such a child who simply looks like Willem Dafoe. The disparity between Klaus and Dafoe's other roles is what makes the role work so well. I know that he's not the main part in any way, but he's just so great there. Also, I was really confused by Owen Wilson's involvement in this movie. It was the first movie that he didn't have a hand in writing and I feel like he is giving the movie his all. But there is a shift from his other roles to this role. Lauren kept saying that his accent was driving her crazy because it was all over the place. I honestly don't know about that. This isn't my favorite Anderson role, but it is very good. I love the genuineness that Owen Wilson imbues Ned with, especially when he is full into his Kingsley role. It's so charming. I know the movie is a bit of a bro-party because Cate Blanchett is a bit standoffish and Anjelica Huston is barely in the movie (despite the fact that she's playing the same role she does in the other Anderson movies). I would love to give a few more bits to Blanchett and I always want more Anjelica Huston in my Anderson movies.
I do see why people don't love this movie though. I think it has to do with the pacing, which is just terrible. I kept laughing at the movie, which was its primary job. But I also kept looking at my phone. That might spell death for the movie. It is such a simple plot, but it keeps coming up with ways to get in its own way. A good filmmaker knows to give all kinds of impediments between points A and B. But there are moments where Anderson tests the goodwill of the viewers. I really love the pirate stuff. In fact, the pirate stuff is my favorite moments in the movie. But there's a lot of really stressing that the boat doesn't work like it used to. Again, I stressed the Goldblum stuff as being an amazing part of this movie. But every time they go out of their way to mess with Operation Hennessey is very bizarre. This is a two hour movie that should have been an hour and a half. That seems minor, but it is just padded out a bit too much. Steve stays in the same level of his character for a bit too long. But even the most boring parts of this movie are still very pretty. Anderson, despite doing an impression of himself, knows how to handle a camera and knows how to score a film. This movie might have my favorite soundtrack out of the entire series, and that's saying something against The Royal Tenenbaums. (That soundtrack is pretty great. I don't know how much I'll go to bat for this statement.) I love the little details, like the claymation animation that is infused in this movie. This movie is more about detail and character than it is story. That's pretty standard for him, but for some reason the story's weaknesses stand out more in this one than in his other films. But it is a very pretty and fun movie.
One of the dumbest problems I have making this blog is that I'm always excited to expand my horizons with new films. I rarely go back and rewatch. But I have so many Wes Anderon movies that I'd love to re-examine. I wish I had an excuse to do so. I also know that Lauren probably wouldn't be down for this any time soon. Plus, I have all of these other movies that I haven't watched my copies of, which I need to get around to. Regardless, I had a good time with this one, even if I was a little bored in the middle. I now really want to watch Rushmore and see if my opinion changes on that one.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.