So I kind of gave up on my Wes Anderson recaps, but I am really excited for Moonrise Kingdom and find myself gripped by a new fervor to do SOMETHING with these notes that I spent all this time writing.
I remember not being impressed with The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou when I saw it in theaters. In fact, I didn’t bother with Anderson’s two subsequent films because I was so unimpressed with Life Aquatic. I pretty much blocked it out. The viewing I did a couple months ago was almost like seeing it for the first time.
I noticed on the Wes Anderson Wikipedia page that Life Aquatic is the first film co-written by Anderson and Noah Baumbach, whereas the first three films Anderson co-wrote with Owen Wilson. I admit ignorance on most of Baumbach’s work: the trailer for Greenberg looked so unappealing to me that I still think about it. I do, however, love his semi-autobiographical The Squid and the Whale, where you can definitely make some Anderson connections. (I also watched Kicking and Screaming, which was one of those movies you can tell is a good movie but you don’t like it very much.)
The Squid and the Whale proves to me that Baumbach can write very emotionally powerful work, but The Life Aquatic is not even emotionally compelling to me. I did not like the film upon this second viewing, even presuming that I am older, wiser, and more analytical. In his other movies, Anderson deftly pokes fun at his characters (the emotionally stunted, fraught man-children) while also coddling them. We’re supposed to like Max Fischer, and we’re also supposed to pity him. If this is what Life Aquatic is going for, they failed. Even if it’s not what they’re going for, I did not care about any characters in this movie.
I don’t sympathize with Steve Zissou at all. And I’m a fan of washed-up Bill Murray overall, probably since seeing Space Jam in theaters circa 1996. But when I put Royal Tenenbaum and Steve Zissou side-by-side in my mind (or even Steve Zissou and Harold Bloom), I don’t find Zissou sympathetic or compelling. . He touches a woman against her will, he asks, “How can you lay that slick faggot?” to his wife with regards to his nemesis. According to some foreign dialogue overheard by Zissou, he hit on a fifteen-year-old at a discotheque, which isn’t funny. It’s just creepy. So I have an unsympathetic character that I don’t care about, and I follow him on a journey to avenge his best friend’s death, which might be okay if a) I was convinced Steve Zissou could have feelings not for himself, and b) the plot’s set-up was not stupid. (Taking revenge on a shark? Seriously?)
My other big issue with the film is that I find the Wes Anderson Aesthetic too overpowering. This is the point where style outweighs substance. According to Wikipedia, the budget for Rushmore was $20 million, but Life Aquatic’s budget was $50 million. The film’s marine setting (speaking both about the locale and the use of boats, submarines, etc.) and the film’s use of animation didn’t do a lot for me. I felt like I was being told “Look how cool this is!” I thought the animation was charming, but I remained leery of its purpose. Look! David Bowie songs! IN PORTUGUESE! I remember thinking that I’d rather read an illustrated book about the Belafonte than see its crew in action.
So that’s mostly what I remember about Life Aquatic, other than I didn’t care about it at all. I was uninspired to take many notes, and now they’re incomprehensible to me. So I’m not trying at all with this “review” or “analysis.” But here are some stray thoughts I have written down:
- “Because I hate fathers and I never wanted to be one.” Just….what the eff?
- Who decided giving Owen Wilson a southern accent was a good idea?
- The miniature of the Belafonte and the tour of the ship = WHIMSY OVERLOAD (chemistry set? Really? Albino scout dolphins??)
- Okay, I do enjoy the orca behind him during his interview (In retrospect, I don’t recall this moment whatsoever)
- Cate Blanchett’s voice is fucking annoying. I saw Fellowship of the Ring seven times in theaters (six times in seventh grade and once last summer for the hi-definition)—how have I not noticed it before?
- Ned’s death was actually very sad
Soundtrack Favorite Pick: “Search and Destroy” – The Stooges