Monday, April 22, 2013

Wes Anderson's The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

I seem to recall liking this when I first saw it.  Liking it a great deal.  Considering it one of my top
Wes Andersons, in fact. So I was surprised to read up on it and find that it's not well regarded critically.  And I was even more surprised to see it again and find that...  Well, it just didn't work for me this time.

If this were a blog that was consistently trying to apply an intellectual approach to its subject matter, and I was really interested in delineating my vision of Anderson's vision, I could probably note how this fits in with the rest of his oeuvre, in terms of characters, themes, motifs, etc.  Because it clearly does.

But instead I'm just going to try to put my finger on why I was left unsatisfied by my second viewing of it.  Here's what I think is the thing.

I'm a Big Lebowski cultist.  Almost a Dudeist, really.  I've lost track of how many times I've watched that film, and I still find it funny each time.  There are some comedies that succeed like that, where even when you know the punch line and no longer have the element of surprise working on you, you can still appreciate them for the mastery of their timing and calibrated exaggeration, the absurdity of the conception and the brio of the presentation.  Humor isn't just punch lines.

This film contains elements that could have made it a rewatchable success in the manner of Big Lebowski.  It's got a wonderful premise, nicely chosen weird characters, and a suitably shaggy storyline.  Discovering all that for the first time, it was enough to make me laugh.  But it doesn't have the right timing, the right rhythms, for the gags to hold up over time.  I don't know if it's trying to be funny, really;  it might just be satisfied to be whimsical.  But it could have been more.  The material deserves a little bit more than archness.  If Anderson's approach had beckoned us in, rather than distancing us like he normally does, it could have been a comic masterpiece.  It wouldn't have taken much tweaking, even, I suspect.  It's almost there.  But not quite.  Second time around, I found myself appreciating it, but not enjoying it.


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