Indie art houses with limited release, or The Life Aquatic
So the thing that makes Bill Murray great is really his ability to deadpan. Which makes his collaborations with Wes Anderson especially serendipitous, because the thing that makes Wes Anderson movies great, if you think they're great, is their deadpan take on the totally ridiculous universe in which they take place.
So last night we went to see The Life Aquatic. And the thing that was wrong about this movie is that everyone except maybe Cate Blanchett's character -- more on this later -- deadpans everything. The universe is flat despite all the wackiness that ensues within it. And the reason that's wrong -- the reason even Bill Murray deadpan doesn't entirely work -- is that there's just no relief. Bill Murray is great in Rushmore, even in Lost in Translation, because he's deadpanning reactions to characters and events around him that are anything but flat. In The Life Aquatic there's not a lot of character relief. Willem Dafoe's character makes a stab at it but he's not compelling in the way Jason Schwartzman or Olivia Williams or Scarlett Johansson manages to be. No, the closest thing we have to character relief is Cate Blanchett as a reporter, which is a nice inversion of the usual: journalist as least objective, most human.
Although I liked this movie a great deal I can't recommend it to most people. I appreciated the way in which it was highly stylized and I appreciate what he's trying to do with the flat universe and characters and all that. But this might be the film that sends Wes Anderson back to indie art houses with limited release. It's just not going to work for most audiences. It's not even going to work for most audiences of film snobs.