Friday, March 30, 2012

Moby Dick As An Eccentric Comedy: The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou

The Good: Moments of humor, Well-Acted, Quirky parody
The Bad: PACING!, Unoriginal characters, Pacing.
The Basics: A disappointing directoral follow-up to The Royal Tenenbaums finds Wes Anderson putting Bill Murray and a boatload of misfits out to sea to fight a shark, pirates and awkward silences.

Let me open by saying that I loved the movie The Royal Tenenbaums, which was written and directed by Wes Anderson. That movie was clever, well orchestrated, funny and tragic. And at the end of the day, despite a moment of two of slowness, it was entertaining. Thus, I dismissed all of the critical press I had read about Wes Anderson's new film The Life Aquatic. I figured the reviewers were wrong, that someone who made the highly entertaining The Royal Tenenbaums could not fall so far so fast.

I was wrong.

The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou is not a bad movie, not by a long shot. But it is not worthy of your time and attention either. If you have not seen The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou is likely to compel you to. If you see this movie and want to see an even better one, The Royal Tenenbaums awaits. If you see this movie and hate it, go watch The Royal Tenenbaums, it is a lot better.

Why? The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou is like The Royal Tenenbaums - LITE. Anderson, writing here with Noah Baumbach, takes the quirky character types he skillfully wove together in The Royal Tenenbaums and creates a similarly zany atmosphere. As well, Anderson directs with an amazing sense of soundtrack and movement (when there is movement). But gone is the interpersonal empathy, the compelling humanization that makes us care about the characters. Instead, The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou feels like a shadow of a movie we have seen before and leaves us disappointed.

Steve Zissou, a noted documentary maker, presents his latest magnum opus, a diving expedition that does horribly wrong when his partner is killed by a shark off camera. Depressed at the loss and the direction his life is heading, Zissou gets his film crew together to go in search of the shark that killed his partner.

Zissou is accompanied by a protective assistant named Klaus Daimler, financed by his somewhat estranged wife Eleanor and interviewed by a young, pregnant reporter named Jane. Also on his expedition is Ned Plimpton, a young man who Steve believes may be his son by a relationship he had many many years ago. Also along is a bond stooge, a Portugese-singing David Bowie cover artist, and a rival oceanographer.

The characters are certainly interesting, but they feel familiar, like Wes Anderson has put together another eclectic ensemble that speaks and acts in a way very similar to an eclectic group he put together before. Zissou is interesting, as are most of the people around him, but not interesting enough in a different way to carry the attention of the viewer.

My last heads up is to the costume designer. The costume designer put a hat on Seu Jorge in a scene where Zissou's crew is fighting pirates that makes the scene. In fact, the movie has moments that are wonderfully funny, but those parts are not sustained.

In fact, they are broken up by long stretches of people talking. Slowly. The real reason The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou fails is that it fails to capture the audience with a belief that it is going anywhere. It does not feel like it is going anywhere and when it starts to move, it is going slowly and then it keeps going slowly and when it looks like it might pick up, there is a long scene where people speak filled with a lot of meaningful pauses, then a lot of waiting and then we just stop caring. Then the movie picks up, and is fast for an incident, then there's some talking, a significant scene that moves along nicely, then the movie is over. Except that it keeps going on.

The speed at which events happen is agonizingly slow. It is difficult to watch and the singlemost reason I will not subject myself to this movie again. Who will like The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou? People who have not seen The Royal Tenenbaums. Is Bill Murray good in the movie? Yes. Can you live without seeing his performance here? Absolutely. Because at the end of the day, the writing to sustain this movie as something new and different and vital is just not there and 118 minutes of The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou feels at least twice that long.

In a bad way.

For other works by Wes Anderson, be sure to visit my reviews of:
The Fantastic Mr. Fox
The Darjeeling Limited
The Squid And The Whale
The Royal Tenenbaums
Bottle Rocket


For other movie reviews, please check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing of all the films I have reviewed!

© 2012, 2005 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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