Wes Anderson films are some of my favourites, not only because of the times they came into my life but because of the inventive style and themes which don't hide his problems but instead do their best to make up for them. Having seen all the films now, I wanted to put down my thoughts on my experiences with each of these varied and wonderful films, for better and for worse.
Bottle Rocket (1996)
Based on a short of the same name Anderson directed in 1994, Bottle Rocket is the debut of the Wilson Brothers Owen and Luke, the former now known mainly for wacky comedies. This was the last of Anderson's films that I saw, and what is immediately noticeable with hindsight is how simply normal the style is - the camerawork is more naturalistic and the characters distinctly more human. The tale of two friends, one attempting to become a career criminal and the other trying and failing to move away from that life, works mainly because of the brothers and their familial relationship.
Although Wilson's directorial style is typically absent here, there are hints towards it development. The film ends with the first of Anderson's famous slow-mo scenes as Owen Wilson's character goes to prison. It's not a film I love, but I don't really hate it either, and it's fairly fun where it needs to be.
Instead of developing any particular relationships, the film is focused entirely on the development of Max's character, from his ignorant and arrogant beginnings to what is hopefully (and deliberately ambiguously) more wise ending. His sparring with Blume ends up failing spectacularly in a fantastic scene which rips away the film's prior pretence of being a romantic comedy, with Williams' Cross tearing into both Max's adolescent sexual posturing and Blume's desperation. The rest of the film sees Max rebuilding the bridges he burnt with his barber father and the few classmates who actually liked him.
The reason why I can't really watch this is for that first half, in which Max's personality is so grating that it makes the film difficult to watch. The implication at the end that the vast majority of his development has been for show doesn't make that any easier, and neither does this being the first example of Anderson's habit of giving children adult voices. It works here because it shows Max's precociousness and arrogant naivety, but in later films it stands out and adds a strange tone to proceedings, especially in films which focus on children as main characters.
The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
Following the decline and rise of the Tenenbaum Family, the family's many members and their respective backstories (explained in a long intro by narrator Alex Baldwin) means that there's something for everyone. The film's nature means that everyone is stained by tragedy - Richie by his failed career and life-long obsession with his adopted sister, Margot by her abandonment issues and eternal dissatisfaction, and Chet by the death of his wife and the obsession with health and safety that follows. This is all bound together by the film's central focus on patriarch Royal (Gene Hackman) and his attempts to bring his family back together by any means, even if that means that he has to change his character to do it.
For me the film is in a weird place - I love the film's style and aesthetic, as well as its fantastic soundtrack. The dynamics of the Tenenbaum family are ridiculously enjoyable to watch - as is the liberal amounts of development that every single character gets in spades. Where I end up feeling a little awkward is during the film's depiction of suicide and the underlying misogyny that surrounds that entire issue. Mid-way through the film, Luke Wilson's Richie discovers that his adopted sister Margot has in her life had a string of lovers, and for a reason I can't fathom this drives him into a suicidal state which Margot later blames herself for. It's a stain on what is otherwise a fantastic film with some really warm themes.
The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (2004)
Bill Murray is at his best when playing characters who are tired of life - this is true of more or less all of his Anderson appearances, with the possible exception of his cameos in The Darjeeling Limited and The Grand Budapest Hotel. Here though is where that performance gets to shine, as through the guise of defamed oceanographer Steve Zissou we see his cynicism develop to a fever pitch. At the same time, Wes Anderson gets in his daddy issues with the character of Ned Plimpton (Owen Wilson playing against type), who believes himself (falsely, as we discover at the end) to be Zissou's son.
Mark Mothersbaugh (who scored the first four Anderson films) adds to the film's distinct aesthetic with his score - half of which is Seu Jorge's brilliant Portuguese covers of David Bowie songs, some out-of-nowhere electropop and then the chilling Zombies b-side "The Way I Feel Inside" for Ned's death.
It's tempting to call Wes Anderson the king of Daddy Issues, and this film is the middle of a trilogy in which those themes are at the forefront. The Life Aquatic instead focuses on isolation and, as is as also a common Anderson theme, the idea of lost glories. This is big in every Anderson film from The Royal Tenenbaums onwards, but here is where it first became the star focus.
The Darjeeling Limited (2007)
Unlike most of the rest of Anderson's post-Bottle Rocket films, there's very little in way of presentation and pretention. Not to say that his style isn't everywhere, but there's no narration or bookmarks or grand storytelling. He lets the three leads play out their own characters in a series of confined spaces, eventually casting them out into the wilderness and bringing their shared neuroses to a head. It's quite odd to think that Anderson's most heartwarming and uplifting film centres almost entirely around a sequence of two funerals and two seperate abandonments. But it's about siblinghood and family and overcoming past differences in a way which, while still fairly bittersweet, is somewhat more positive than elsewhere in the ouevre. (Last time I'm gonna use that word, I promise.)
Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
Also making Moonrise Kingdom so memorable is the first appearance in the collection by composer Alexandre Desplat (he's done so many scores it's not worth listing just a few of them), whose floaty original music is mixed in with a score heavy in the works of Benjamin Britten. The resulting score gives the film an ethereal atmosphere and underlines both the film's sense of adventure and its sense of nostalgia.
My favourite performances in the film are those of Bruce Willis' exasperated Captain Sharp and Bill Murray in a role which makes Steve Zissou look like a beacon of positivity.
The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
The result is a breathless film, as beautiful as it is horrifying, as funny as it is morose. Desplat's score not only enforces the film's strange omni-European roots, but also drives home the various styles of fashion and music that the film passes through as it flashes back and forth between the present and various decades of the 20th Century. Both Ralph Fiennes and Tony Revolori's lead characters are eccentric individuals with coloured pasts and a deep layer of sadness beneath their exteriors, and the relationship that develops between them (less father-son this time, at last) is a joy to behold, even when it ends up having tragic consequences. It's a beautiful film and, despite the very bitter end to its tale, it's an experience that's worth having. It's the pinacle of what Wes Anderson has acheived.