Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (2004)

“What would be the scientific purpose of killing it?”
… “Revenge.”

I’m sure you can hear Bill Murray as the second member of this exchange, even if you haven’t seen the movie. In fact, Murray is the film’s chief asset. He’s at his best when allowed to do something—which is why Broken Flowers disappointed me while I loved Lost in Translation--and here he is given free rein in a world of Wes Anderson’s making.

Anderson has a reputation for dark comedy and sometimes difficult movies. Unfortunately for me, they’re not always difficult in the way I’d want them to be. His films seem shallow despite being populated with people who seem like they ought to have layers—and don’t. It took several years and a repeat viewing for me to like Rushmore, perhaps because I’d altered my expectations. Bright conceits and witty exchanges do not indicate a plot arc which displays similar qualities.

Knowing this, I was able to enter The Life Aquatic with expectations of a splash through a few hours, and I was not disappointed. Except for Bud Cort. I have nothing against Bud Cort. On the contrary, Harold and Maude is one of my favorite movies and he’s adorable in it. Which makes him one of the saddest people to look at today. My brain still refuses to believe it’s him.

Some of the touches Anderson adds are inexplicable to me, such as the brightly colored, obviously fake wildlife the team encounters. But he makes up for it in scenes like the single-take tour of the ship, spanning multiple floors and introducing the ship and her inhabitants as characters. The movie’s funny, but not uproarious, and it’s smart, but rather self-consciously. But that’s okay. By the way, the screenplay was co-written by Noah Baumbach, writer/director of The Squid and the Whale, which is a topic for another review.

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