Last night I watched The Great Beauty, one of the films that I really regretted missing in the theater. This one even more so, and the only excuse I have is that my fiancée isn’t much of a Wes Anderson fan and I didn’t really want to go by myself. Then she saw it on a plane and loved it. Go figure. But there are some intriguing differences between this and previous Anderson movies. Some are superficial… the changing aspect ratios for different time periods, the lack of any pop songs on the soundtrack. It’s also somewhat more “adult” than Anderson has ever gone, with some raunchy (for Anderson) sexual content, violence and more profanity than he usually puts in his scripts. But most significantly, it’s his most purely entertaining feature, without the usual bittersweet melancholy and nostalgia that pervades his work. Here Anderson isn’t building surrogate families or examining fractured ones, he’s just spinning a lively yarn… and one with a lot of great jokes. It’s certainly got more laugh-out-loud moments than any Anderson film I can think of.
Still, Wes has gotta be Wes, and his distinctive style is all over the place. The whimsical and fastidious art direction, the host of offbeat characters, the meticulous framing with actors directly addressing the camera, the literary flourishes (does any other director display such love of books?), the deadpan beats. I can’t imagine a Wes Anderson film that doesn’t feel like a Wes Anderson film… it just wouldn’t be right. Anderson in any other vein would feel like… I dunno, Ozu trying to do Cronenberg.
I recently sold off a bunch of movies, trying to make a little extra cash and also keep my growing collection in check. Among these were Bottle Rocket, The Life Aquatic, Darjeeling Limited and Moonrise Kingdom. I really wish I hadn’t, even more than I wish I hadn’t passed up the opportunity to see this on the big screen. I had a feeling at the time that I’d seen these movies enough and I still had the Anderson films I treasured most, and besides, if I ever wanted to see them again they’d be easy enough to get a hold of (and in Moonrise Kingdom‘s case, I figured a more lavish Criterion release was forthcoming anyway). But watching this delightful lark brought back all the affection I feel for the director, and makes me want his complete works back in my collection. Oh well, I’ll pick them up again at the next sale.
Anderson’s movies always take me a couple of viewings to feel where they “sit” with me, but I haven’t disliked a single one yet… just loved some more than others. On this first viewing, however, I found this one to be a marvelous bit of fun… not as emotionally resonant as others, but I appreciate the variation in tone. Rating: Very Good (86)