The Life Aquatic

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

The Life Aquatic
2004Dramedy ∙ 1h 59min

When I first saw the promos for this movie, I nearly burst with joy. Wes Anderson and Bill Murray together again? It was like a deadpan dream come true. Anderson must write parts specifically for certain actors, as he gets just perfect performances out of them. Witness Murray in Rushmore or Gene Hackman in The Royal Tenenbaums. Those performances are picture perfect with not a false note anywhere. Just amazing, really. Murray has, in fact, absolutely mastered the ”who gives a shit” attitude that makes his characters so wonderfully comic.

You can see the real beginnings of that move from the manic goofball thing he used to do to this awesome whatever it is in the second act of Groundhog Day, as his spirit is broken and he becomes just a bundle of self-deprecation and comic stoicalness. Anyway, Anderson has taken full advantage of this discovery and has written greatly flawed characters (his specialty) for Murray that are at once complete douchebags and sympathetic at the same time. Steve Zissou is that man.

The problem is, it turns out, that he’s just a little too similar to Royal Tenenbaum — a part that Hackman already played to perfection. In fact, the whole movie, with its theme of fathers and sons and loyalty and redemption ends up feeling like a less well-done version of Tenenbaums. It doesn’t help that some of the same actors are in both films, but I swear there are some scenes and situations that are almost identical. You have the wacky assistant with a funny accent, the rival for the wife/ex-wife’s (in both cases Anjelica Huston) affections and a once affluent and admired protagonist in financial and moral ruin.

The movie seems to start not at the beginning but in the middle somewhere and meander around from there. It’s as if a whole chunk of the film is missing. It’s not that there are necessarily plot holes or things aren’t amply explained, but there’s a definite sense that something important is passed over–including more information about his best friend, Esteban du Plantier, who was killed by the mysterious Jaguar Shark, and is the whole impetus for his crew going out on this latest adventure. There just could have been more back-story to fill out Zissou’s life. I’m sure I’m just missing the point, but I also couldn’t figure out the point of all the weird, fake computerized fish. I assume it’s supposed to be Zissou faking stuff in his own film, but he wouldn’t really have had enough money to create special effects. I don’t know; I’m kinda dumb about this stuff sometimes.

Granted, there are some funny lines in this thing, and some funny situations, but too often they seem more like little vignettes strung together by a weak overall plot structure. I gave this thing only two and half stars not because I think it’s worse than a film like Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle (which garnered three stars), but it’s more out of disappointment than anything else. I wouldn’t discourage anyone from tuning in to this movie if it comes along on cable, but if you have as high a regard for Anderson as I do, I would suggest skipping this one in order to avoid that inevitable sinking feeling.