The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004) / Comedy-Adventure

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for crude and sexual humor, language and a brief drug reference
Running Time: 114 min.

Cast: Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Cate Blanchett, Anjelica Huston, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Michael Gambon, Noah Taylor, Bud Cort, Seu Jorge, Seymour Cassel
Director: Wes Anderson
Screenplay: Wes Anderson, Noah Baumbach

 

 

Unlike some other critics, I didn't go into The Life Aquatic with any expectations of greatness.  I've only fallen asleep while watching two movies in my lifetime, and one of those movies happened to be Wes Anderson's previous film, The Royal Tenenbaums (which I now fondly refer to as The Royal Somnanbulaums -- for the curious, the other film was Who's Harry Crumb?).  While other critics were placing Rushmore on their Top Ten lists for 1998, I placed it on my most disappointing.  The only Wes Anderson film I seemed to like was the one most others have ignored, the modest but charming Bottle Rocket.  No, I don't expect great things from Wes at all.  So this might explain why I come out of viewing his latest movie feeling a bit more upbeat than the rest about the relative entertainment value.  If anything, one cannot really appreciate Wes Anderson's films as a unified whole, but rather, a collection of little moments.  A Life Aquatic had just enough little moments to make me content, although I must admit, I still found myself struggling to maintain focus (and consciousness) throughout.

Bill Murray (Coffee and Cigarettes, Garfield) plays a Jacques Cousteau-like oceanographic filmmaker named Steve Zissou, whose latest adventure had taken them on the trail of something Zissou dubbed the Jaguar shark.  According to Steve, the shark killed one of his men, and in a rare mishap, Steve didn't even get footage of the creature, leading his critics to feel that he is making the whole thing up.  Steve plans to make a Part II to his ill-received film, hoping to exact revenge on the shark that killed his friend and colleague, and this time he's joined by the newly-met Ned (Wilson, Starsky & Hutch), a 30-year-old who just may be Steve's biological son, and Jane (Blanchett, The Aviator), perhaps the only reporter interested in covering Zissou's adventure.  The trek isn't easy, filled with such perils as lack of funds, greedy pirates, low morale, and family drama, leaving Zissou to question whether continuing a life that has brought only diminishing is worth it in the end.

I suppose I should mention that when watching The Life Aquatic, you're watching a Wes Anderson film.  It's not a Bill Murray movie.  It's not an oceanic adventure movie.  It's a Wes Anderson movie.  If that means nothing to you ("Um...Wes who?"), I am unsure just how you'll react, as his movies are quirky, bizarre and unconventional.  If those three words don't describe the movies you typically enjoy, I'd probably recommend passing this one by unseen.

Obviously, if you love Wes Anderson, you're going to want to see this film, if you haven't already.  Not being a huge fan of his work so far, I can't say what you may think of it, as to me, it seems just as scattershot as the rest of his work -- messy plotting, eccentric characterizations, and amidst it all, unique touches of inspired hilarity.  Like any strong-flavored dish, you either like it, or you spit it out in revulsion.

While I found the story as a whole to be uninteresting, not caring if they ever found the jaguar shark, or even giving a damn as to whether or not Zissou has a son, I still grew to like the characters for their odd conversations and goofy points of view.  Sure, if I were to trim out the scenes that didn't really do much for me, I might end up with a half hour film, but these scenes were interspersed well enough to keep me amused, albeit minimally.

So, I guess what I mean to say is that your enjoyment of The Life Aquatic is a critic-irrelevant crap shoot, so what I say probably isn't likely to help.  If it piques your interest enough, I'd say it's worthwhile, provided you know what to expect going in, and additionally, aren't expecting too much. 

2004 Vince Leo