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I am in love with Bill Murray. No, this isn’t another Peter Sarsgaard thing. I just love Bill Murray. He can be funny just standing there. He doesn’t have to do anything. But after Ghostbusters and Groundhog Day, he didn't do much for a few years but he has come back with a vengeance like Rushmore and Lost in Translation. Bill’s a weird guy. In fact, all of his films could be called Lost in Translation. But, it’s nice that some writer/directors like Wes Anderson and Sofia Coppola are writing scripts with Bill in mind. I also love Jacques Cousteau. I watched every one of his National Geographic specials when I was a kid. That National Geographic music still gets me excited. Anyway, I loved Cousteau and the crew of their ship, Calypso which brings us back to The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, the latest film, written and directed by Wes Anderson. The story follows oceanographer, Steve Zissou (Murray), and his crew of the ship, Belafonte as they roam the world studying marine life. Zissou is world renowned for the documentary films which show his world travels. Lately, Zissou has fallen on hard times and his agent (Michael Gambon) is having trouble raising money for their next film. In addition, Zissou’s wife (Angelica Huston) is leaving him, his nemesis (Jeff Goldblum) is running rings around him, his long lost son (Owen Wilson) suddenly appears, and his crew (Willem Dafoe etc) are unhappy. Zissou has a psychotic break after his best friend (Seymour Cassel) is eaten by a shark and he vows to find the shark and kill it. Zissou sets off on the Belafonte accompanied by his son and pregnant reporter (Cate Blanchett).
Many of Anderson’s favorite actors return in The Life Aquatic, including Murray, Huston, Wilson and Cassell. They are joined by Goldblum, Blanchett and Dafoe. Dafoe doesn’t do a lot of comedies but he is very funny here. Goldblum sleepwalks through this movie as he often does. And Huston seems to be playing the same character as in The Royal Tenenbaums. Blanchett really shines as the love interest for Murray and Wilson. She can pretty much play any role. In one of the funnier roles, Seu Jorge plays a member of the crew who constantly performs David Bowie songs in Portuguese.
Wes Anderson is like Woody Allen or the Coen brothers. Like them, he is a genius. But, also like them, every movie he makes is not necessarily a classic. Rushmore was really great. The Royal Tenenbaums was not a total success but is entertaining nevertheless. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is very good. It’s entertaining and as I said before, I love Bill Murray. But, Wes Anderson’s films are very difficult to pull off. He wants them to be funny and heartbreaking at the same time. His characters are all weird misfits so it is easy to laugh at them but it is less easy to identify with their pain. Rushmore was so successful because Jason Schwartzman, as Max Fischer, was able to bridge that gap with the audience. The Royal Tenenbaums was less successful because the characters were a little too weird and emotionally detached. In The Life Aquatic, the burden falls on Bill Murray’s shoulders. He is an emotionally distant actor but he has shown in Groundhog Day and Lost in Translation that he can break through and connect with the audience. He does a good job here, but it’s difficult because the other characters are a bit cartoony. This aspect is enhanced by the use of animation to show all the marine life in the movie. This is both entertaining and detracting from the film. It makes it all a bit surreal as do the scenes onboard the Belafonte, where the characters are walking from room to room on a ship cut down the middle like a stage set. The Life Aquatic is a bit messy like The Royal Tenenbaums with lots of characters running around being funny but not necessarily advancing the story.
Don’t get me wrong. I really liked The Life Aquatic. I spend more time discussing its strengths and weaknesses because Wes Anderson is such an interesting writer and director. I always look forward to his next film just to see what he’ll do next.