Confronting Wes Anderson
by Jeff Wagg
July 4, 2012
Imagine you're in a movie theater, filled with people. The film starts, and you notice some nice scenery, but the dialog seems stilted and nothing seems to be happening. There's very little action, the characters are extremely two-dimensional, and there's no discernible plot or meaning behind anything on the screen.
You sigh about your lost $12, and remind yourself that bad movies are nothing new. You expect people to start walking out — but instead, they are howling. Every few lines, another burst of laughter fills the theater, and it's obvious that the audience is really enjoying themselves. As the credits roll, tears run down cheeks and comments like "that was great" and "wow, best movie of the year" fill the air. You look around for Alan Funt and some hidden cameras. How could these people have seen the same film?
I had this experience watching Wes Anderson's latest film, Moonrise Kingdom. It's a simple tale about two kids who run away to be with each other one very picturesque New England summer in the 1960's. There was nothing for me to not like about this film — it took place where I grew up (I've even visited the Boy Scout camp where it was shot), it features some themes I'm interested in and the "instamatic" color scheme was intriguing. The only problem is the writer/director, Wes Anderson.
I've watched most Wes Anderson movies, and I'm dumbfounded as to why anyone enjoys his work. I find it amateurish, boring, and ultimately depressing. The Royal Tenenbaums ranks as one of my least favorite films ever. Fantastic Mr. Fox made no sense to me at all (and I love Roald Dahl), and while Darjeeling Limited had some promise, by the end I was completely lost.
And yet he continues to win awards and garner great reviews. Moonrise Kingdom has a score of 94% on Rotten Tomatoes, the equivalent of "masterpiece." People whose opinions I respect loved this movie. One of them said "Finally, they made a movie just for me." Even my partner Jen thought Moonrise Kingdom was very enjoyable.
What the hell is wrong with everyone?
After seeing Moonrise Kingdom, I obsessively read interviews with Anderson about why he made the film. He said that he wanted to capture the intensity of falling in love as a twelve-year old. I read slack-jawed, as I hadn't even realized they were in love. He talked about a crumbling marriage that just seemed "normal" to me, and interviewers praised him for his life-like dialogue that I found intentionally wooden.
I put on Anderson's short film Hotel Chevalier, hoping for some insight. It's thirteen minutes in a hotel room with two apparently ex-lovers. So far as I could tell, nothing happened. A grilled cheese sandwich is ordered. A man refuses to shave off his cheesy mustache. Natalie Portman disrobed. I flipped back to a review I found, and read the summary: "a highly moving, beautifully nuanced, and hauntingly memorable portrait of lost love."
"This is crap!" I yell internally. People must be liking his stuff only because they're supposed to. It's like patrons in a modern art gallery oohing and awing over some wood and wire not realizing that they're actually looking at the mount for artwork that hasn't arrived. (Oh wait, that was me. Another story, another time.)
And I'm not alone. These sentiments from the Cinephiliac reflect my own:
I just simply don't understand the importance of Wes Anderson's films. Anderson often tells the story of an upper class white family who has no real conflict in their lives except for the ones they create. Anderson constructs characters that viewers are supposed to care for, however, they are never developed enough to encourage true empathy from the audience.And finally I realized what was wrong with everyone: not a damn thing.
It's not that I just dislike Wes Anderson's films. I dislike most Michael Bay movies, but I can see how people would like them. With Wes Anderson, I can't even imagine what fans are experiencing. I'm for whatever reason incapable of appreciating them. My collection of experiences, my socializing, my brain chemistry — one or more of these things has rendered me "blind" to Wes Anderson's artistry. I can enjoy films such as Gregory's Girl, Eraserhead, and even this music video, but not Moonrise Kingdom.
The evidence (positive reviews, personal testimonials, awards, box office success) leaves me with this conclusion: Wes Anderson is a talented artist who is appreciated by smart and educated people. He doesn't "suck." His movies aren't "trash." And there's a difference between not liking something and not understanding it. I don't understand Wes Anderson enough to know if I like his work or not. And if I don't understand something, I don't feel entitled to render an opinion on it.
If you're one of those who do appreciate these films, I envy you. You can have an emotional and moving experience during Moonrise Kingdom. And while you're enraptured, I'll be in the lobby staring at my empty popcorn box trying to figure out why the turtle had a name written on it.
by Jeff Wagg
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