Saturday, December 5, 2015

Review: The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)

Well, the sophomoric slump had to come sooner or later. We are treated to the usual Wes Anderson delights -- kickass music, real honest-to-god dialogue zingers, visually stunning staging, fascinating characters, sudden kinetic energy in an action sequence, a heartbreaking finale -- in a movie that doesn't quite deserve them. Overpowering its strengths are some major weakness. Scenes lack rhythm and don't connect to those around it, and cutting between a joke that actually works and the scene that follows it is jarring. Some scenes exist for seemingly little reason, lacking a strong button to justify them. We have some questionable line delivery from Bill Murray, an annoying affectation from Cate Blanchett, and Owen Wilson lacks the chops to make his character anything other than bland. Not even Willem Dafoe can save us.

Finally, I'm not so sure the Henry Selick sea aesthetic works. I've been fighting with people over this since the movie came out and have not gotten any headway in the argument. "It's distracting and it looks fake," isn't precise enough of a complaint on my part... I think it's that the characters in the movie are in on the joke? Telling Zissou his movies look fake (where, in the reality of the script version, they probably mean the staging or something) and are then unable to see that the sea looks fuckin weird until the very end dilutes the artistic choice. Their reasons for disliking Zissou could begin and end with "He seems like an idiot and he got a man killed." The end shot of the Jaguar Shark then means that it is the sea that is cold and cruel, and Zissou understands it. Not: "Oh, I guess your films told the truth all along."

You had the toughest of all acts to follow, and you made it even tougher by choosing to work with Noah Baumbach, who has made a career out of inflicting characters' shitty attitudes upon audiences everywhere and is probably to blame for everything else I hate. In spite of that, a Wes Anderson movie manages to happen. Somewhere in the back.

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