IN THE DIRECTOR’S CHAIR WITH WES ANDERSON REVIEW: “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” stars Bill Murray (Groundhog Day, Ghostbusters ), Owen Wilson (Masterminds, The Internship), Angelica Huston (The Addams Family , The Grifters), Cate Blanchett (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Thor: Ragnarok), Willem Dafoe (The Florida Project, The Lighthouse), Jeff Goldblum (Jurassic Park, Independence Day), Michael Gambon (Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Gosford Park), Noah Taylor (Shine, Almost Famous), Bud Cort (Harold and Maude, MASH ), Seu Jorge (Elite Squad 2: The Enemy Within, City of God), Robyn Cohen (Boned, The Institute), Waris Ahluwalia (Inside Man, Okja), Niels Koizumi (Hitch), Pawel Wdowczak (The Royal Tenenbaums), and Matthew Gray Gubler (500 Days of Summer, Alvin and the Chipmunks ). It is directed by Wes Anderson (Bottle Rocket, Moonrise Kingdom), who wrote it with Noah Baumbach (Marriage Story, Greenberg). Famed oceanographer Steve Zissou (Murray) sets out to reclaim his tarnished name by killing the Jaguar Shark, a mammal that ate his best friend in his recent documentary. However, things get complicated when he is visited by Ned Plimpton (Wilson), a Kentucky pilot who claims to be Zissou’s son.
Much like “The Royal Tenenbaums,” I had to see this one twice before reviewing. However, I will spare you all by providing one review, no second-watch shenanigans. Wes Anderson is proving himself to be a jack-of-all trades when it comes to storytelling. Just when I thought I had him pinned, I see his most bizarre feature yet: “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.” Red hats, David Bowie music, and stop-motion sea life. What in the world is this movie? Watching it once is surely not enough. You need a double take to fully grasp what Anderson was going for. And in his first collaboration with Noah Baumbach (who went on to write a few other films with Anderson, like “Fantastic Mr. Fox”), this is a spectacle unlike any other. Steve Zissou, inspired by the famous oceanographer Jacques Cousteau, is a jerk-off with almost no care to those around him. He’s created for himself his own island, with a crew that dresses like him and a show tailored to fuel his ego. What was once an exploration into the unknown has become a business, one that Zissou himself has grown hollow in. He’s nothing like he used to be, and the movie takes us from his washed up loserdome to his internal revival. It’s a heartwarming tale, one I gravitated more towards than “Royal Tenenbaums,” particularly for the relationship between Zissou and his supposed son Ned. Owen Wilson knocked it out of the park in this, playing a character I haven’t seen him portray before. He’s kind, innocent, and naiive towards the world of oceanography. It makes for good, subtle humor (one of my favorite scenes is the glowing jellyfish, where Ned is made sound guy). His bond with Zissou is tested, and reveals who and where they are at in life. It ultimately tethers the wacky adventure that goes all over the place during the course of this almost-two-hour trip. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, Anderson and Baumbach surprise you with a sequence you wouldn’t expect. I won’t go into spoilers, but the story only escalates. And it is with “Life Aquatic” that we get the classic Anderson style of blocking a building scene as if it is from the theater. Zissou’s boat is constructed in-studio to show all of the rooms with the fourth wall taken out, so the camera can glide around and capture what everyone is doing in each section of the ship. It’s marvelous, and baffles me how the picture never really won a production design award. Sure, it’s not as perfected as Anderson has achieved it nowadays, but it’s still wonderful to see. Along with the fantastical cinematography are the terrific performances. Everyone does a grand job, with a few new faces to Anderson’s pack filling out the frame, including Blanchett, Dafoe, Goldblum, and Gambon. They’re great, and made me laugh; you couldn’t have picked anyone better for the part of Alistair Hennessey, Zissou’s nemesis, than Goldblum, truly. When you see this flick the first time, it is off-putting. At least for me it was. I never expected the tone of this movie to be shaped by the workings of David Bowie (almost all songs sung in Portugese by Seu Jorge), nor the sea creatures to be merely stop-motion animatics. Honestly, it turned me off. But that’s because my expectations did not lie in what Anderson had in mind. He thought directly outside-the-box with this one, and once you re-watch it, you understand. David Bowie makes sense for the narrative, as do the stop-motion fish. It gives it an added layer of uniqueness, and plays into the old school look that Anderson is going for. The whole adventure is a fun joyride filled with experimentation, dry humor, and raw emotion. “Life Aquatic” is one of Anderson’s most iconic-looking features yet, with an array of characters that you can’t help but love. It’s not perfect, nor does it really set out to be the most heartwrenching, Oscar-drama story out there. Where it soars are in the little details that add to the emotional moments that are spread throughout the narrative. I felt for these characters. Zissou is still a mystery to me, but his relationship with the other crew members works well, and sculpts a story that is unforgettable. “Life Aquatic” will certainly not be everyone’s cup of tea (its style is far too radical), but as for this reviewer, I dig it. FINAL SCORE: 92%= Juicy Popcorn
Here is the trailer: