Field Maloney doesn’t get Wes Anderson.
After being rescued by Gene Hackman’s performance in The Royal Tenenbaums, USS Anderson finally ran aground last winter, with The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou. Rather than develop as a storyteller, Anderson appeared to have floated off to an adolescent never-never land where everyone wears Lacoste, colorful and quirky toys abound, and a vintage emo soundtrack gets piped in whenever a little poignancy is required—a Michael Jackson ranch for the Salinger set.
First of all, I would hardly say that The Royal Tenenbaums was rescued by Gene Hackman’s performance. He was great of course, (Wes Anderson did, after all, write it specifically for Gene Hackman), but so was Angelica Houston and pretty much everyone else in that movie. (I have mixed feelings about Ben Stiller, but whatever.)
My real problem is with people who disliked Life Aquatic, and apparently there’s a lot of them. I just can’t understand it. Consider the highlighted sentence in the quote above: those are supposed to be complaints. Maloney is complaining about colour and quirk and the fact that it had a poignant soundtrack. (Am I part of the “Salinger set” then? What if I thought Catcher in the Rye was boring?)
Personally, I wouldn’t call David Bowie or Mark Mothersbaugh “vintage emo,” whatever that is. And I sure as FUCK wouldn’t call Seu Jorge’s acoustic covers of David Bowie songs, sung in Portuguese, “vintage emo.” More likely I’d call them “completely awesome in every possible way.” Here are some other great things about Life Aquatic:
- Jeff Goldblum’s “I’m A Pepper” shirt
- the script girl is always topless
- they have a script girl
- the bond company stooge is also a human being
- they all have matching Team Zissou speedos and matching Team Zissou pyjamas
- they call their guns “Glocks”
- the interns share a Glock
- Willem Dafoe (period)
- Steve Zissou can snap his fingers underwater
- there is a sauna and a hot-air balloon on the boat
- and so on.
And that’s just the crazy surface weirdness. More importantly, and completely unlike Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch, credible adult relationships transpire. The colourful, childlike system of metaphor that forms Zissou’s neverland of boyhood fantasy — celebrity ocean documentarians and crayon ponyfish and natural wonder — is home to a very honest and unironic story about fatherhood and mortality and other grown-up themes. If you didn’t like the movie, or thought that it was full of “hipster irony”, I guess you just weren’t paying attention and should probably watch it over and over again until you realize how wrong you were. Or maybe, like Field Maloney, you just have no taste or sense of humour.
Life Aquatic is among Wes Anderson’s best movies, easily better than Rushmore and maybe even better than The Royal Tenenbaums. If Owen Wilson would rather cash in with movies like Wedding Crashers, where the best line (an Owen Wilson original!!!) is “Scientists say we only use 10 percent of our brains, but I think we only use 10 percent of our hearts,” well, that’s just terribly sad and disappointing. Jesus what a horrible line. It doesn’t even make sense! And Maloney thinks this supports his theory that Wilson was the brains of the operation? That just makes me want to slap my own face.
Also, that we-only-use-10-percent-of-our-brains cliché is total bullshit. Scientists do not, in fact, say that and I wish people would stop repeating it. Clichés are bad enough when they’re true.