Wes Anderson (2004)
Last night I saw a preview of The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and…well, at least I saw it for free. Not that it’s that bad. It’s just not that good.
Bill Murray plays the title character, a low-budget Jacques Cousteau-type explorer with a ragtag crew of misfits, none of whom have any training, or from what we can see, any aptitude for their job. Zissou’s a bit down on his luck. None of his recent underwater documentaries have done very well, expedition funding has run out, his boat’s a junker, and on his most recent adventure, his best friend Esteban (Seymour Cassel) was eaten by a mythical Jaguar shark, in a hilarious opening sequence. Steve Zissou vows revenge, and spends the remainder of the film pursuing the man-eating shark, which may or may not even exist.
Enter Owen Wilson as Zissou’s illegitimate son, who meets his dad for the first time and before he knows it he’s joined the crew, complete with red knit cap and light blue speedo. Angelica Houston is Zissou’s estranged wife, the business mind behind the operation, with a wicked blue streak in her Crystal Gayle-like dark locks and a thin cigarette constantly perched in her fingers. Willem Dafoe is the needy first mate Klaus. Noah Taylor, Bud Cort, Michael Gambon, and Cate Blanchett are also along for the ride. And Jeff Goldblum is perfect as Zissou’s arch-rival Alistair Hennessey.
Portions of the film are laugh-out-loud funny. The story is clever and original, and for the most part, engaging. Director Wes Anderson has some fun with the artifice of filmmaking, since the entire movie is about a documentary crew filming themselves. A cross-section of the boat, like a life-size doll house, is employed to great effect. And the creatures of the deep are colorful Dr. Seuss creatures come to life.
I enjoyed the film, much in part to Bill Murray’s performance. The performances (except for Owen’s wavering Kentucky accent) are great. I loved the soundtrack, with the running gag of a Brazillian troubadour crooning David Bowie songs in Portugues, an excellent use of a Sigur Ros tune, and the techno keyboard of Zissou’s theme song piped into their diving helmets. The story is unpredictable and filled with many hilarious touches, but occasionally the narrative bogged down. It just wasn’t consistent. There’s one particular sequence that didn’t seem to work at all–I don’t want to go into details because I think the less you know about this film the better. And stay away from the trailer if you can; this is one film that gives away many of the jokes in the preview.
Hours after I’d seen the movie, the more I thought about it, the less I thought of it. As the reporter traveling with the expedition, Cate Blanchette’s character isn’t given much to work with. And why make her five months pregnant? I didn’t really connect with why the film ended the way it did; it was anti-climactic and blahsay. And when I thought about it I wondered, what was the point? I fear this is one of those comedies destined to be enjoyed in the moment and soon forgotten. [*** out of 5]