Friday, November 11, 2011

Bottle Rocket (1996)

Bottle Rocket (1996)

It's so funny that I count Wes Anderson among my favorite contemporary directors, because when I look at his filmography, I realize that I've only seen half of his films.  (And his filmography isn't that long...)  My excuse for that is that I really don't have an excuse beyond the fact that I've been meaning to get to the unseen films (sometimes for years) and other things have "just come up", which is why I was thrilled when my brother picked Anderson to be our first subject.  However, if I look a little more deeply into my admiration for Anderson's work, despite only having seen three of his films, I think that is a testimony to how great a director he is.

Bottle Rocket is Anderson's first film, which stemmed from a short feature of the same name.  It stars future Anderson go-to guys Luke Wilson and Owen Wilson (who also co-wrote the screenplay) and is a simple story about simple people (literally) trying to find their place in life.  Owen Wilson plays Dignan, a hapless former landscaper whose adulation of his former boss leads him into even more hapless criminal activities.  Anthony (Luke Wilson) is fresh out of a mental hospital and his loyalty to Dignan leads him (reluctantly) into his lame escapades.  Their friend Bob (Robert Musgrave) rounds out the trio and serves as Dignan's foil.

Though Bottle Rocket didn't have the depth and full-bodied stories of Anderson's later films, it is so charming that its shortcomings are easy to forgive.  The characters were slight, but still interesting and diverse in personality.  Though Dignan is a complete boob, his earnestness earns both the loyalty and respect of his friends, but its the few people who marginalize him that he wants to impress the most, and that makes him kind of tragic.  Anthony, the supposed "mental case" turns out to be the most rational one of the group and is the real leader due to his strength of character and being an overall mensch.  It's Bob who is the least developed, but he just wants to be included, after years of being bullied by his older brother, even as an adult.

Anderson is always described as "quirky" and even though that term is greatly overused, it's admittedly a good descriptor of his work.  One can see Anderson's unique style in Bottle Rocket, though it's not quite as vibrant as his subsequent work.  Bright, primary colors, eccentric characters, the brilliant use of music - they're all there, as is the mostly ever-present last shot in slow motion and at least one character with a desperate need to impress a father figure.  I don't normally laugh out loud during Anderson films, but Bob's name being Bob Mapplethorpe had me laughing every time they said it.  It's just absurd enough to be brilliant without being over the top. 

I can't say that Bottle Rocket is one of my favorite Wes Anderson films, but like a few other directors, even his worst film would rate better with me than the best offerings of most other directors today.  "Not my favorite" equates to a strong 4/5 rating from me.  I really liked Bottle Rocket and am glad that I finally watched it.  It also served as kind of a sweet reminder that Owen Wilson isn't a douchebag as long as he's working with his old buddy Wes.

I can't wait to see the next one!

Bottle Rocket: 4/5 stars


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