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05 August 2005

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Cate Blanchett & Willem Dafoe
Directed by Wes Anderson (The Royal Tenenbaums)

From Hollywood Video: "This wacky comedy follows eccentric oceanographer Steve Zissou and his team as they embark on a mission to track down the mysterious shark that ate Zissou's partner."

Silliness. Everywhere. And jilted, unexplained interpersonal errors that inspired both laughter (occasionally) and "what the hell?" (mostly). The humor is in the confusion and the bizarre, and in that sense it doesn't appear much different from Anderson's other works, of which I've only seen The Royal Tenenbaums. I didn't like Tenenbaums, primarily because of the stark, unloving, desperate nature of its characters. For some reason, even though the cast was comprised of mainly the same actors, I enjoyed Aquatic's more gracious characters: their quirks, their strange motivations, their flaws, their warmth and potential. Here, the peculiarities served a genuine purpose to exaggerate real emotions, like writing about the foibles of human nature in fluorescent marker instead of pencil. Similarly, the glories of the aquatic underworld were portrayed entirely in CGI, as an artificial shorthand for the real beauty of nature.

For example, even though Willem Dafoe played a German named Klaus and wore a red stocking cap everywhere, his frustration and aggressive feelings of envy at the arrival of Zissou's son Ned (Wilson) were authentic. The absurdity (the "wacky" part of the Hollywood Video description) was merely in the staging, not at the heart. I found it amusing and entertaining, if not outright funny, and surprisingly touching.

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