The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

Caution Spoilers!

Wes Anderson is one of the most distinct filmmakers of his generation. Say what you want about him, the man knows his mise-en-scene. He puts so much thought into the colors, how the shots are composed, the costumes, the music, you can tell a Wes Anderson film with a single frame. He also tends to explore similar themes in his films- usually featuring extremely dysfunctional and rich families. While The Royal Tenenbaums is his masterpiece, I kind of have a soft spot for The Life Aquatic. He really lets it all hang out, having some shots that look like they’re from a children’s pop-up book and a soundtrack that includes multiple David Bowie songs sung in Portuguese.

Steve Zissou (Anderson favorite Bill Murray) is a Jacques Cousteau type documentary filmmaker who is determined to find the shark that killed his long-time partner, when he meets a man who may  be his son (Owen Wilson). Wilson’s Ned may be Wes Anderson’s purest character. So many of his characters are spoiled and destructive but Ned just wants to get to know his dad. He’s obviously seen a lot of pain, growing up without a father and losing his mother, but he remains a good person. He struggles to bond with Zissou, who is too self-involved to have a decent relationship with anyone. He is treated like a traitor when reporter Jane (Cate Blanchett) falls for him, when it is clear they are the more age appropriate match. However, just as he begins to truly connect with Zissou, his crew, and Jane, he’s killed in a helicopter accident. It’s a death that cuts me unlike other film deaths because he was becoming important to so many people. It’s not about the loss of one life but more about the holes that with be left in everyone else’s.

While much of the cast is composed of Anderson regulars (Murray, Wilson, Angelica Houston), it’s Willem Defoe’s Anderson debut as Klaus that steals every scene. We are used to seeing Defoe as a menacing figure, making Klaus’ childish jealousy of Ned’s relationship with Zissou even funnier. He is extremely sensitive and has trouble hiding his emotions whether it be glee that Zissou and Ned are fighting or hurt when he is assigned to B squad yet again. He is someone who seeks validation and receives it from Ned’s flag. It’s a very sweet moment when he salutes Ned, officially excepting as a member of the crew.

The only character that really doesn’t work for me is Blanchett’s Jane. I find no fault in her performance, I just think she was given the least to work with. She has some really awkward lines that are clearly supposed to be deep but come off as the writers trying too hard. Also, I didn’t really like that a supposed father and son are fighting over a woman who is already pregnant with another man’s child, especially since Zissou really only wants to bang her.  I thought they may have made the character pregnant to accommodate Blanchett’s real-life pregnancy but that was a coincident. I can see how it ties into the theme of sons without fathers, fathers without sons, but I don’t know. I would have handled that character very differently if I was writing the script.

I wouldn’t recommend this film to someone who has never seen a Wes Anderson film. This film is like all his quirk on crack and sometimes he gets in his own way. However, those who already appreciate his work will find it enjoyable. It should be noted, this was the first film he wrote without long-time partner Owen Wilson. Also, there’s a lot of experimentation with stop-motion animation which he later employed in Fantastic Mr. Fox.

Favorite Quote:

Steve Zissou: I hope you’re not gonna bust our chops on this on, Bill.
Bill Ubell: Why would I do that?
Steve Zissou: Because you’re a bond company stooge.
Bill Ubell: [scoffs] I’m also a human being.

Midnight in Paris

If you’re a screenwriter, you’re almost required to have opinions about Woody Allen. As a woman, I am constantly reminded that he married his step-daughter (however they do have one of the longest running marriages in Hollywood) and can’t help but question his motives when he makes multiple films with Scarlett Johansen. Woody Allen makes films for himself, first and foremost. He is definitely one of the most self-involved filmmaker of all-time, but when his work speaks to you, it is even more powerful because it is so personal. While I am somewhat predisposed to enjoy Allen’s work due to my love of dialogue, I found Midnight in Paris to be one of his more charming films.

Writer Gil Pender (Owen Wilson) travels to Paris with his fiancé, Inez (Rachel McAdams) while struggling to complete his novel. Gil is very romantic about Paris, particularly the Paris of the 1920s, much to ihs fiancé’s annoyance. As Gil wanders the city at midnight, he suddenly finds himself in the Paris of the 1920s, surrounded by artists like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemmingway. He also falls in love with Adriana (Marion Cotillard) who is sort of a 1920s painter groupie and argues that the true Golden Age of Paris was the late 19th century – la Belle Epoque.

If you know anything about art and literature of the 1920s, the film becomes a lot of fun as you try to guess who’s who. It really brought out my inner snob as I found myself saying out loud, “Of course that’s Man Ray.” I think this film really touches on the true fact that we all think we were born in the wrong time. The problem with nostalgia is that we always remember the good or at least interesting bits. Every era has elements that are forgettable or downright awful.

I think Owen Wilson is a really great fit for Allen’s style. There’s an obnoxiousness to Allen’s leads that Wilson’s laidback likeability balances out. Gil is self-involved, pretentious, and narcissistic, and worst of all ,he thinks it’s everyone else that’s guilty of these sins, but Wilson’s floppy hair and childlike approach to the magic that surrounds him redeems him. I hope Allen and Wilson continue to work together as it is clear Allen has struggled to find someone to take his place in his own films as he’s aged. However, I found the choice to have Gil’s fiancé admit to cheating while in Paris to be an obvious attempt to excuse Gil’s less than gentlemanly behavior. It’s ok that he has fallen head over heels for the enchanting Adriana, because McAdams was a cheating whore!

While I doubt Allen will ever make a film that comes close to Annie Hall, he can still make films that say something the human experience. In the film, Inez’ parents rave about a wonderful film they saw just the night before, but they can’t remember the title. Wonderful but forgettable might be a harsh description of Midnight in Paris, perhaps an unremarkable delight. And don’t be surprised if you find yourself looking up airline prices for a trip to Paris.

Favorite Quote:

Man Ray: A man in love with a woman from a different era. I see a photograph!
Luis Buñuel: I see a film!
Gil: I see insurmountable problem!
Salvador Dalí: I see rhinoceros!