The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

Year: 2005
Director: Wes Anderson
Writer: Wes Anderson/Noah Baumbach
Cast: Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett, Owen Wilson, Willem Dafoe, Anjelica Huston, Jeff Goldblum, Noah Taylor, Michael Gambon

The Royal Tenenbaums bordered on self-important drivel, not at all funny and not in the least interesting. What Anderson and Wilson are good at is coming up with unexpected characters (of the sort usually referred to as quirky).

But they always edge too close to elitism, to saying to a large section of their audience 'This isn't a Hollywood comedy so we wouldn't expect you to understand it'.

The Life Aquatic is just as good at coming up with characters we've never seen before – in particular the washed up, cynicism-sozzled documentary maker and adventurer Steve Zissou, a role that must have been written with Bill Murray in mind the same as Bob from Lost in Translation was.

But this time Anderson reigns in the holier-than-thou and isn't afraid to actually make you laugh. Some of the humour is still more Proust than Jim Carrey, but even the laughs that are visceral are rooted in the off centre story Life Aquatic crafts throughout. The beauty of a Wes Anderson film is that you never who what will happen or who'll do what, much like life and the polar opposite to the average templated Hollydcomedy.

Zissou leads a ramshackle team of divers, film technicians and crew and his latest exploit is to find and kill the giant mythical shark that ate his partner and best friend on their last voyage.

His films are tawdry and cheesy, his career is spiralling downward, a young pilot (Wilson) might be his son, things are getting harder with his estranged wife (Huston) and a reporter (Blanchett) doing what he hoped was a puff piece on him is asking uncomfortable questions.

That's the background of the story, but it doesn't strictly describe what it's about. That will be something different to everyone who watches it (another triumph to Anderson's credit in not narrowing the narrative band to lead a docile audience down a path of his design).

Murray is as much a gem as he's been since the days of Meatballs and Stripes, and in his current glory, I feel vindicated in him being one of my favourite actors for the last twenty years.

Everyone else lives up to the film, but it's the script and direction that lead the way.

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