[Alternate title: THE LIFE CINEMATIC WITH WES ANDERSON. Ultimately about Wes Anderson's oh-so-precious sensibility, this melancholy romp - no oxymoron - is nonetheless consistently dazzling, though not always in a good way. This is the natural extension of Anderson's project, which deals with child-men and their push-pull relationship with adolescent father figures, but also with Anderson's fondness for a twee illustrated children's storybook aesthetic. Moreso than even THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS, this movie indulges in design, or more precisely, in the director's overweening sensibility that's reflected in cute, thrift-store-chic retro design. The most visual (and visually distinctive) of the Young Turks, Anderson expends much energy in getting the exact details of production just right, from the charming wood paneling of the submarine's control panel to the cold metallic glean of the decor in the Hennessey yuppified sea compound. Scene of the year: the single shot introducing the Belafonte. His fairy tale aesthetic is actually perfect for the stories he tells - Murray's Zissou, like Hackman's Royal and Murray's Blume, is a perpetual adolescent who must discover adulthood through parenthood. His movies are fairy tales, except charting the growth of deadpan melancholics rather than impressionable girls. Murray, by the way, has never been more hilarious, delivering the absurd dialogue with just the right inflection - "Meet Ned, who is probably my son." Nobody else can play this role.
Again, sensibility: Anderson's most notable directorial trait is not his no-hair-out-of-place symmetrical compositions and frontal tableaux (not as annoying here as it was in TENENBAUMS but still irksome), quirky characterizations, eccentric weirdos banding together (like kids in a playground, with the geeky uniform and assigned "roles" - contrast with Team Hennessey's Aryan uniformity), or the fetish for retro design; it is his eschewing of emphasis, almost unheard of in American filmmaking. Like Tati, but even moreso, Anderson's movies are a model of controlled chaos, with the deadpan acting and the throwaway lines and the random background gags (a simple 3 second continuity shot of Zissou going to Ned's room will have the cabin lights going off in the background and the crew members frenetically attending to the problem) leaving you with the sense that you're always missing something. Five things are happening in any given shot, with as much attention given to random whales peering in from the window in the background as the nonsensical conversations in the foreground. The resistance to emphasis extends to the acting, where emotional high points are - perversely - delivered in throwaway deadpan in carefully composed master shots. Wes doesn't do emotional cues. Farcical "adventure" sequences (especially the storming of the hotel) brilliant - during the exuberant latter half it was inching towards a 75+, but ultimately it never quite hangs together, the central father/possible-son/leader/disciple dynamic never quite gripping (hard to generate tension when two such willfully deadpan performances face off) and the tone isn't right. Too much is sacrificed at the altar of His Wesness - at his insistence on flooring you every millisecond with his Delightfully Quirky Sensibility. Gorgeous submarine scene at the end, though. Blanchett "luminous" as usual but wasted, but who knew Dafoe can do comedy? A second viewing - mandatory - will take this to either a 73 or a 55. On first viewing this one is hilarious, sui generis, but too much; unless you are a Weshead, in which case it is plenty.]
For more 8,000 word thinkpieces condensed to single capsules, see here. For an explanation of the exacting (and niggardly) Greek version of the retarded 100-point scale, where a 78 grade might top that annum's film output, see here. (The 63 translates to a "B"/Recommended in my more clear-eyed letter grade scale.) For a good explanation as to why I chose to confuse my non-movie-nerd blog readers (you know who you are) with this bizarre experiment, do not look here because there is nothing.