Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
"LAST OF THE MONSTER KIDS" - Available Now on the Amazon Kindle Marketplace!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Director's Report Card: Wes Anderson (1996-1998)

So it's back to business as usual for the ol' movie blog now. Here's a report card for the director responsible for the majority of my Criterion collection.

1. Bottle Rocket
In today’s world when the quirky indie comedy is largely a genre onto itself, it’s sort of interesting to go back to the beginning, before that concept was so overplayed. “Bottle Rocket,” in addition to being the beginning of that sub-genre, more or less, also comes out of the door as a bold statement for Wes Anderson. His style is apparent pretty much from the opening scene. And while it hadn’t totally developed to the strength and instantly recognition that would later happen, you can definitely see the roots. We’ve got a story revolving around a group of misfits character, with the lead being a total rogue, trying to bring his wacky plans to fruition, much to the chagrin of everyone around him. You’ve got heavy use of early English pop/rock and an eccentric, catchy score courtesy of Devo’s Mark Mothersbough.

And, of course, the Wilson brothers. (All three of them actually. Andrew has a small role as super prick Future Man.) Now a days, when both brothers are associated with highly advertised but shallow studio comedies, usually of the romantic or family variety, it might be hard to remember they were actually talented once. It’s really Owen that shines here. While Luke’s often conflicted and concerned lead certainly isn’t a light job, Owen’s Dignan is obviously the most interesting character in the film and drives much of the action.

Actually, it’s in the second act, when the story’s focus shifts to the romantic subplot, that the movie falters. While fun to watch in its own right, compared to the very funny botched heist elements of the beginning, it seems mostly laugh-free. The movie makes up for this problem by returning to another messed up heist for the awesome conclusion, a brilliant series of humorous sequence that pretty much makes the whole movie.

The supporting cast is all right, with James Caan and Lumi Cavazos making impressions, though I found Robert Musgrave slightly annoying. While he would easily top it over time, “Bottle Rocket” is a good beginning for Anderson and certainly shows off his stylistic trademarks.
[Grade: B]

2. Rushmore
It’s really fascinating to see a director’s style evolve from film to film, especially if that director’s style was distinct to begin with. “Rushmore” is a full scale improvement over “Bottle Rocket” and displays Wes Anderson really coming into his own as a filmmaker.

First off, it’s much funnier. The razor sharp, endlessly quotable, laugh-out-loud dialogue makes it first appearance. Honestly, a lot of the lines here had me bowling over with laughter. Also appearing are a number of subtle sight gags, like the nonsensical appearances of Halloween costumes or, most notably, Max’s (in)famous stage productions. Midway through the film, the one-up-man-ship between Murray and Schwartzman provides some of the biggest laughs of the picture.

Of course, “Rushmore” isn’t just a highly successful comedy. It's primary a focused character study. (Maybe that’s the biggest different between “Bottle Rocket” and “Rushmore.” A sense of focus on one character.) Max certainly proves to be one of Anderson’s most memorable characters. A hero to a whole generation of overachievers, attempting to do everything at once without really succeeding at any of them, the character is a little hard to pin down and could very well be unique. Maybe most interesting is how the movie avoids the typical coming-of-age story clich├ęs. Max grows throughout the story but how much does he really mature? Maybe the most important lesson he grabs is which battles to fight. Either way, Jason Schwartzman is awesome, fully becoming the character, delivering a break-out part if I’ve ever seen one.

Another important event to happen here was Anderson’s first collaboration with Bill Murray. A lot has been written about the direction Murray’s career would take following this film. His journey from cut-up Hollywood class clown into melancholy, slightly pretentious, indie film mainstay started here. It had been coming a long time. Murray isn’t just depressed the whole movie, providing plenty of laughs of his own, proving the comedy sophistication that was always lurking below the surface. Olivia Williams, playing the object of obsession for both man and boy, seems to one of the few semi-grown up people in the movie. She’s enchanting and you can see how easily both could fall for her. Points need to be thrown out to Mason Gamble and Stephen McCole, both hysterical, and Sara Tanaka, who I probably would’ve had a crush on if I she went to school with me.

All the other Anderson pieces are in place: The montages set to English pop music and the Mothersburgh score that’s as eccentric as the movie. It’s the first one hundred percent Wes Anderson movie and his first real triumphant.
[Grade: A-]

No comments: