Why Wes Anderson’s So Damn Good

(Or At Least A Partial Explanation)

By Leo Ziegler

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Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel is due out in theaters early next year. The Texas born writer/director has been inviting us into his peculiar, idiosyncratic world for nearly 20 years. From its recently released trailer, this newest film promises a view into another part of Anderson’s storybook.

How, exactly, did this world begin?

wes-anderson-bill-murrayWith every auteur, every project builds upon previously established themes. Noah Baumbach (occasional Anderson collaborator) and Darren Aronofsky, along with other filmmakers who have started their careers around the same time as Wes Anderson and have equally unique voices, have had varying degrees of success – critically and commercially. A few who had started off with a fiercely independent voice eventually found their way to studio films, such as Baumbach writing DreamWorks’ Madagascar 3 or David Gordon Green directing Pineapple Express and The Sitter

Somehow, Anderson has been able to tell his stories in his unique style, continually pushing the boundaries he already established, and has been rewarded not only with critical success, but commercial success as well. It’s almost as if he walks into a studio executive’s office and says, “Oh, you thought that last film was a little off? Wait until you hear about this one.” And, somehow, they give him money and let him do exactly what he wants. It might not hurt that, early on in his career, Anderson befriended James L. Brooks – Terms of Endearment, Broadcast News and, oh yeah, The Simpsons. I guess, with that sort of clout backing you, you get a bit of a free pass.

Even the most benevolent mega-producer or director will pull back the reigns  if his investment wesmoonriseisn’t making any money.  (Those Simpsons bucks only take you so far.)  Worldwide: Anderson’s films have grossed more than $273 million.  The average summer blockbuster often costs that much and struggles to make a profit. (Unless, of course, it’s directed by Christopher Nolan or Joss Whedon.)

Now, I can break down Anderson’s career film by film. What would that prove, though? Yes, he is a quirky filmmaker that boarders occasionally on cartoonish. Filmmakers like that are a dime a dozen. They debut at Sundance to huge acclaim, maybe make a couple of bucks at the box office, and bomb with their sophomore film. After that, they either fall farther down the rabbit hole of bizarro indie films or jump from network to network directing the latest shows. 

12-Bottle-RocketYes, Anderson did debut his short film Bottle Rockets to much acclaim at Sundance. After adapting Rockets into a feature film, Anderson surrogate Jason Schwartzman took us farther down the rabbit hole. Rushmore introduced us fully to the world of silly names and character-defining costumes only previously hinted at.

Costumes will claim the center stage in The Royal Tenenbaums, and there they will stay. Whether it’s Ben Stiller’s tracksuit or Adrien Brody’s oversized glasses in The Darjeeling Limited, these visual shortcuts help to ground the viewer in these  often-peculiar worlds.

The costumes, the off-kilter sets and locations, the silly names: These all buffer often dark stories of loss and obsession. If it weren’t for this sort of childish mise-en-scène, The Life Aquatic would be even more depressing, and the Romeo & Juliet story Moonrise Kingdom would be a rather disturbing film about an abandoned child clinging to whatever love he will allow himself.

Perhaps that’s why we love his films. The dichotomy of incredibly intense stories in a fantasy, childlike world allow us relate to the characters but, at the same time, distance us from them. That’s the educated perception of why Anderson has been so successful; maybe the film-going population just need a cinematic sorbet between giant-robot movies and dumb action movies. 

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