Movie Review: The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
Release Date: December 10, 2004
Distributor: Touchstone Pictures
· Wes Anderson
· Bill Murray
· Owen Wilson
· Anjelica Huston
by Beth Gottfried
Published: December 27, 2004
If you're the type who appreciates high brow humor and are looking for an entertaining, laugh-a-lot movie this holiday season, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou should fit the bill. The movie is clever and as someone paying $10/movie and sitting through 30 minutes of commercials and previews prior to the actual feature, I tend to pick my movies wisely. I'm too stingy and too impatient to warrant that type of frivolous behaviour unless I think a movie has merit and this film definitely does. Did it bowl me over with its subtleties like Lost in Translation ? No, but then again, while this is the same Bill Murray, this is a Wes Anderson production -the same man that brought us Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums . Not surprisingly, in terms of quality, Zissou fits somewhere in between the two aforementioned flics. It's not as ingenious as Tenenbaums but more likeable than Rushmore. Even the soundtrack, while still of a higher caliber than 99% of the movies out there and creative in its own right (it's all David Bowie songs adapted into Portuguese), didn't do it for me quite the way Royal Tenenbaums did. Maybe next time around, Wes Anderson will once again team Owen and Luke Wilson and bring back Danny Glover. As is key in any Anderson film, the cast of characters and quality and chemistry of the actors is undeniably good.
Steve Zissou (played affably by Bill Murray) is a washed-up Marine Biologist/Film-Maker. His latest documentary results in his best friend/loyal companion, Esteban getting eaten by a jaguar shark. To boot, the film critics and film societies do not respond well to the first installment of the documentary. For Steve's second installment, he decides to f*ck science and seek revenge by hunting the shark that killed his faithful friend. Adding to Steve's depression and fading popularity is the ever growing success of his arch nemesis, Alistair Hennessey (Jeff Goldblum). Goldblum is pretentious and unlikable, while Steve may be a prick, but he has a level of self awareness about his stature that endears him to us. Murray plays the downtrodden underdog Zissou with a degree of authenticity that makes every filmgoer applaud his acting chops and believe he's a worthy Oscar contender. I would agree with this statement, but think that his breakout, stand-out Oscar worthy role is yet to come. Then again, Peter Sellers got short changed for Being There in 1979, so maybe comedians have that uncanny and unfortunate ability of never being taken seriously for Oscar contention. It's a crying shame, too.
As with many a movie and life lesson in general, Bill Murray's latest film is about the quest that takes Zissou to his final destination and all the things/people he picks up along the way. Relationship-wise, Steve can't seem to make things work with his estranged wife, Eleanor (Anjelica Huston) and soon discovers he fathered an illegitimate son, Ned/Kingsley played by Owen Wilson. While Ned and Steve hit it off initially, the arrival of pesky pregnant reporter, Jane (Cate Blanchett) acts a catalyst in creating a rift between father and son. These emotional undertones contribute to setting the Belafonte submarine off on a rough, unchartered course that will inevitably lead the boat and its crew to mutiny: Mutiny on the Belafonte , that is.
There are subplots in the film. Ned gives Steve a whole wad of cash to produce the documentary and when the boat is hijacked by the Filipino kitchen crew and they steal the money and kidnap one of the boat's crew, a whole slew of hysterics ensues. There is an unnecessary dramatic twist in the end I think we all could have been spared as it did little to further the character development or the actual plot, but such is the degree of entropy in Wes Anderson's productions. The director takes ample license to be daring and zany, sometimes bordering on ridiculous and utterly out there. You can either applaud him or berate him. I choose to say the following: Next time around, less whacked out, distracting subplots and more of what Anderson does well: Character and relationship development. I have to say that given Anderson's latest project is Fantastic Mr. Fox , I have high hopes. It's one of my favorite classic childhood tales.