The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)
Starring: Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Anjelica Huston, Cate Blanchett, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Michael Gambon, Bud Cort, Noah Taylor
Directed by: Wes Anderson
This is my Wes Anderson film history: never seen Bottle Rocket. I found Rushmore mildly amusing but unremarkable when I first saw it on video a few years ago. I loved The Royal Tenenbaums when I saw it a few months ago and own it on DVD. Because of Tenenbaums, I was really looking forward to seeing The Life Aquatic. The verdict? Sad to say, it's no Royal Tenenbaums.
The elements were there for Life Aquatic to be as good, or better, a film: Anderson, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Anjelica Huston, along with solid Anderson-newcomers Cate Blanchett and Willem Dafoe, and a quirky concept. In fact, when judged by the sum of its parts, it was a pretty good movie. The cast was all very good in what they were asked to do, with Dafoe standing out the most in a scene-stealing role. There were some genuinely hilarious moments in the film, incredibly fun animation of the sea, and visually interesting scenes.
Unfortunately, they don't come together to form a successful movie. It makes this an incredibly difficult movie to review. It's not bad, but it's not that great either. It's agonisingly close to being very good, but isn't. For that, it feels like Anderson is the most to blame. He's given us an interesting world, with interesting characters, that looks good and is performed well. But it doesn't go anywhere. Or at least not anywhere satisfying. The climaxes of the film are unconvincing and unearned. The whole thing seems like a movie centred around the idea of making a Jacques Cousteau parody, to which I can't comment on whether or not it was successful because he's before my time, but not enough time was spent on what the movie would ultimately be about. There's some of Anderson's standard motifs: ungracefully coming to terms with age, father/quasi-son relationships, and awkward and unfulfilled romance, but no driving action to bring the film along.
As a result, the characters and world of The Life Aquatic are fun to visit, but the movie falls short of the promise they create. If you were interested in seeing it, then do so. But I can't recommend it to those who weren't interested in the first place. The movie is simply alright, and as such gets a simply alright score.