Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)

The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (2004)

Steve Zissou (Bill Murray) is a famous ocean adventurer and documentarian (modeled after Cousteau) who has several recent failed films under his belt, he's lost his best friend and colleague to a jaguar shark and the issues he's been having with his personal life are contributing to his general malaise.  When Ned Plimpton (Owen Wilson) shows up claiming that he may be his son, Zissou is inspired to renew his commitment to hunt and kill the animal that killed his friend, with Ned and his trusty crew behind him.

I enjoyed The Life Aquatic, and have found that Wes Anderson's films have two effects on me.  I either love it from start to finish and enjoy myself immensely, or I spend the film enjoying the experience, yet wondering how much I am really going to end up liking it.  The thing about Anderson is that he's so unique and, in my opinion, subtly brilliant, that even when I think I may be having misgivings during the film, by the end of the movie I realize how much I really did like the film.  The Life Aquatic falls into the second category for me: I enjoyed the film but it wasn't until those crucial five minutes after the film when I absorb and process the film that I realized how much I enjoyed it.  I think that some people (maybe a lot of people) don't think that a film is successful if they have to think about "how much they liked it" but I think that can be one of a film's assets. 

The typical Anderson touches were in full force in The Life Aquatic, including the eccentric characters, goofy costumes and uniforms (I can now confirm that Owen Wilson is usually the cast member who ends up having the most unique uniform, if you count his smashed in face in The Darjeeling Limited a uniform) and extremely theatrical elements.  And by theatrical I literally mean theatrical - Anderson not only doesn't hide that a set looks like it could be on a theater stage, but he accelerates this aesthetic.  Anderson is always brilliant with his music choices, and the music in The Life Aquatic was exceptionally fantastic.  Other than some compositions by Mark Mothersbaugh and a few other songs, all of the music was songs by David Bowie, all on acoustic guitar, translated into Portuguese and sung by Zissou crew member Pele (Brazilian singer-actor Seu Jorge).  The Life Aquatic also involves a lot of stop motion animation, which obviously paved the way for Anderson's later film, Fantastic Mr. Fox.

One thing that I love about Anderson is that he has amassed a talented and unique group of actors who are insanely loyal to him, and The Life Aquatic features several of them: Murray, Wilson, and Angelica Huston among others.  There are other actors who work on his films less frequently, but I really feel like they do some of their best work by taking a chance with Anderson and working on a film outside of the mainstream: Gwyneth Paltrow in The Royal Tenenbaums, Adrien Brody in The Darjeeling LimitedThe Life Aquatic introduced Cate Blanchett and Willem Defoe into the Anderson fold and both were wonderful.  In fact, it was Willem Defoe's Klaus Daimler (again with the awesome names) that made me laugh really hard several times, and it was his role that was the underdog looking for approval that Anderson always includes in his cast of characters.

I definitely enjoyed The Life Aquatic, but I think I appreciated it more, if that makes any sense.  There wasn't a gut reaction of abject pleasure, but it is a great film. 

The Life Aquatic: 3.5/5 stars


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