In anticipation of his latest film, Moonrise Kingdom, I watched all of Wes Anderson’s films up to this latest release. Here are my thoughts on each.
Bottle Rocket (1996)
Anderson’s first film, Bottle Rocket, is based off of a short of the same name. This film introduces us to Owen and Luke Wilson as well as the odd, quirky style that becomes a trademark of Wes Anderson. The film centers on three friends who have a dream of pulling off a big crime job and living on the run. My favorite character in the film had to be Dignan (Owen Wilson) who’s narcissism and constant need to have a plan in order was quite entertaining throughout the picture. The problem this film had though was establishing characters. Each of the leads had their moments of humor but Anderson clearly struggled at first to blend that humor with heart and while he does that in his later films it is apparent that this is his first effort and he falls short in making any truly substantial character developments for any of the leads. But in the end, the witty humor that becomes Anderson’s trademark is there and the film is a fun little adventure into the beginnings of this filmmaker’s career.
Following Bottle Rocket is Anderson’s first hit which is Rushmore. This is the story of a boy (Jason Schwartzman), the king of his prep school, who is put on probation. The film is built off of the great performance by Jason Schwartzman who while being a highly unlikeable human being in the film is hilarious due to his interactions with his teacher (Olivia Williams), his friend (Bill Murray), and the other classmates as he treats everyone as if he is the adult and they are the child. Unlike Bottle Rocket, Rushmore develops its characters and makes them learn from their mistakes. The storyline also flows better and comes together more smoothly than the previous film. Anderson interjects his usual quirky voice into the writing and begins to install some of his camera techniques that he uses to make the film look and feel original (see the very beginning of this film when they are showing the clubs that Schwartzman is in) which is one of the things I love about Anderson’s filmmaking. He uses a style that is so unique and original and each one of his films is different to most of the stuff out in theatres today. Rushmore establishes this and is one of his better pieces of work.
The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
His next film, The Royal Tenenbaums, is another fine piece of work from Wes Anderson. His very first all-star cast comes together beautifully with a star performance by Gene Hackman as Royal Tenenbaum. This film centers around a family of child prodigies who come together when Royal (Hackman) reveals he has a terminal illness. Anderson does a great job of creating these characters and developing them. While many love Rushmore, I found this film to do the best job up to this point of giving us wild characters and developing them like normal people while still keeping them crazy. Each of the leads do a great job and fuse together with that Anderson style that has blossomed through his work so far. It contains the use of title cards in the beginning to introduce the characters, minor characters with odd names who are extremely entertaining, and that off the wall dialogue that makes his films entertaining. The problem though in this film is it’s lack of focus sometimes. It had a tendency to skip around and not address all of the problems put out in the beginning and whenever it did address them it would sometimes take the short way to it. It also left some characters in the dark such as Bill Murray’s Raleigh St. Clair who needed some more screen time. But that perfect mixture will come from more all-star casts with Anderson.
The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)
Next comes The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou which finally gives Bill Murray the spotlight in a Wes Anderson film. Too bad the script struggled and made this film somewhat of a dud. The film follows an oceanographer (Bill Murray) who is chasing a mythical shark that killed his partner. His team includes his wife (Anjelica Huston), a journalist (Cate Blanchett), and a man who may not actually be his son (Owen Wilson). There is also a hilarious performance out of Willem Dafoe that deserves being noticed. The issue with this film while hilarious due to Murray’s over the top personality with this character is it’s short cuts in creating and developing these characters. Much like some of his early work like Bottle Rocket, Anderson did not seem to give a very true reason to how Wilson and Blanchett’s characters got together or why Murray’s character was the way he is. While that might go under the category of just enjoy the fun of Anderson’s writing, I found it to be a whole in the script that got way over looked and needed some type of work on it. The film had a lot of funny parts especially when the ship was taken over by pirates but the holes in the script with developing these characters hurt the movie and took Anderson a step back from The Royal Tenenbaums.
The Darjeeling Limited (2007)
Next came The Darjeeling Limited, which took the problems of The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and fixed them, giving us a great range of characters and three strong leads in Jason Schwartzman, Owen Wilson, and Adrien Brody. The story follows three brothers who are traveling across India a year after their father’s funeral trying to reconnect with each other. The growth of the three lead characters is done very well by Anderson as each character changes a little and becomes more accepting of the other throughout the course of the film. There was really no stand out performance with each lead doing a good job and that’s what kept this film from being one of Anderson’s best. The script was slow at first but began to pick up about 30 minutes in once problems starting arising for the brothers on their trip. I would have to say the biggest problem would have to be both the pacing and the lack of a great performance. The pacing as a said started out slow and took the story a long time to finally make its way to its conclusion. I felt like the problems between the brothers was not outlined very well at the beginning and we weren’t given a reason until near the end which didn’t make sense because we were invested in learning about these characters and their issues without a reason why. The lack of a great performance hurt the film because no character stuck out as memorable. Each was good but nothing sensational. While it had potential, this film did not rise Anderson as high as it could of after Zissou.
Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)
Now to the most recent work of Anderson’s which is Fantastic Mr. Fox. This is easily his best work to date and a perfect collaboration of the elements that he was installing throughout each of his films. He has his best script yet which is both witty and funny but also serious and solemn. Each character is very strongly written with my favorite Wes Anderson character ever, Kylie the Badger, stealing the show. The film follows Mr. Fox who is trying to pull one last heist against three farmers that turns bad when the retaliate on him and his community. George Clooney does a great job in the title role and like Gene Hackman in The Royal Tenenbaums is a hilarious and strong lead character that sets the tone for the film with his performance. As I stated before, Anderson employed a great script that has his best blend of humor and seriousness that has been built up since Bottle Rocket. Anderson interjects his unique style into the film as well as he creates that original atmosphere in this film that while being a stop-motion animation did not get enough praise for the great deal of originality that it displays throughout. This is Anderson’s best film up to this point and a good one to look back on when writing new material and new films.
My conclusion on Wes Anderson is that he is one of the most unique and original directors in the business today. He is what is right with filmmaking due to his naturally original style that he employs into each of his films and while every one of them may not be the best it still gives a very original feel to it which makes it better than some of the bad work done by most everyone else. Even though it is bad he still interjects originality into it to make it different than everything else. I can’t wait for Moonrise Kingdom because after Fantastic Mr. Fox it will be fun to see where Anderson’s creativity and imagination will go next.
My ranking of his six films
1. Fantastic Mr. Fox
3. The Royal Tenenbaums
4. The Darjeeling Limited
5. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
6. Bottle Rocket