The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)

life aquatic IMDb

If you’ve never seen a Wes Anderson film, I recommend starting here. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is the one of Anderson’s more accessible comedies, and while it may not be his best work (I personally love The Darjeeling Limited), it’s still hilarious and visually stunning in a way that screams “Wes Anderson made this!” (Which may or may not be a good thing, depending on your thoughts about him as a filmmaker.)

Steve Zissou (Bill Murray) is a Jacques Cousteau-like oceanographer and documentary filmmaker, determined to take revenge on a “Jaguar shark” that ate his partner. He also plans to make this revenge the subject of his next documentary, hoping it will be a desperately needed hit in order to secure funding for future expeditions. In typical Anderson fashion, there is also a lot of other drama going on, most of it family related. Zissou is joined on his latest expedition by Ned (Owen Wilson), a polite airline pilot who believes Zissou is his father. The possible father and son duo become rivals for the affections of Jane (Cate Blanchett), a pregnant reporter trying her best to interview Zissou.

The Life Aquatic may be Wes Anderson’s most conventionally funny film, but it’s still has the same odd, dated feel of his other movies. His aesthetic is a hipster dream, but used to great effect here. There are sets that replicate a cross section of Zissou’s ship, the Belafonte, allowing the camera to follow the cast from room to room while displaying all the action. Underwater scenes also rely on stop motion animation to create fantastical fictional creatures, including the elusive “Jaguar shark.” These clearly fake elements never detract from the story, probably because the entire concept is already quirky to begin with.

I always love the soundtracks to Anderson films, and this one does not disappoint. The movie includes renditions of David Bowie hits, sung in Portuguese by Brazilian musician Seu Jorge, who also plays the Belafonte‘s safety expert. I already love Bowie, but Jorge’s acoustic renditions make his music even more beautiful.

The Life Aquatic is still a typical Wes Anderson movie in many ways, but an ever-so-slightly less strange story, broader humor, and excellent performances from the cast make this a good entry point to his work. Just expect the humor in his other films to be much dryer.

Rating: B+

This is the most generically funny Wes Anderson film, it also happens to be my favourite of the films he has made. I never understood why The Royal Tenenbaums, Moonrise Kingdom, or The Darjeeling Limited was as funny as everyone made them out to be. I would usually watch them and think Anderson was pulling a joke on everyone by making these drab films and claiming they are comedies. The Life Aquatic manages to make me laugh though thanks to a quirky story and a solid cast of character actors.

The film follows Steve Zissou (Bill Murray), a Jaques Cousteau-esque adventurer hoping to get funding for a new documentary. His latest film will focus on his hunt for a mythical jaguar shark that he believes killed his oldest friend. The explorer wants to document his hunt and subsequent killing of the shark. He eventually gets funding from a newly discovered son, Ned (Owen Wilson), who he didn’t know existed. The two tentatively begin a father and son relationship as Ned joins Steve’s crew and they begin to hunt down this shark, encountering pirates and performing rescues of rich playboys (Jeff Goldblum) along the way.

I have just read back what I wrote to describe the plot of this film, and I really can’t believe this is the actual plot of a movie. I like how out there it is. The problem I had with Anderson’s earlier films was that they were so normal. The characters were not very exaggerated in any way. I found them to be boring and not funny at all. You definitely can’t say this about Steve Zissou and his crew. They are such a random assortment of people. From Steve’s second in command, Klaus (Wilem Dafoe), now harbouring a heap of jealousy toward Ned, to a Portuguese safety expert who randomly sing David Bowie songs IN PORTUGUESE!!! The whole crew is so random and I love it. Bill Murray runs the show so well too. He is the perfect mix of silly and serious, he does such a good job.

The Life Aquatic is not as hilarious as some other films, but it is by far Wes Anderson’s best film and one of the most random assortment of characters I can remember.

Rating: C+

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