Bill Murray

Tootsie (1982, Sydney Pollack)

Tootsie opens with Dustin Hoffman giving acting classes. He’s a failed New York actor–but a well-employed waiter–who must be giving these classes on spec. It seems like Hoffman being a beloved acting teacher might end up having something to do with the plot of Tootsie, which has Hoffman pretending to be a female actor in order to get a part, but it doesn’t. Save a throwaway scene where he’s helping love interest Jessica Lange work on her part.

The film, with its two (credited) screenwriters and two story concocters (though Larry Gelbart is both), is a narrative mess. Teri Garr, as Hoffman’s student and good friend, disappears somewhere in the second act, once Lange gets more to do. Bill Murray (in an uncredited, main supporting role) at least provides some continuity, which not even director Pollack (who also acts as Hoffman’s agent) gets to do. The conclusion of the movie is this swirl of contrivances, all forcefully introduced earlier in the picture, and no one who should be there for it has a scene. Tootsie just ignores the previous couple hours to get the coda to work.

And it does. Tootsie does, despite all the narrative problems and missed opportunities and dropped characters, come through for the finish. It helps having Owen Roizman’s photography, it helps being shot in New York City, it needs stars Hoffman and Lange. No matter what story problems, Tootsie never fails its actors. Even with it’s Pollack–Tootsie, the film, never fails Pollack, the actor, even if Pollack, the director, doesn’t quite have the film under control. Pollack’s got a great rant towards the end.

I’ll start from the bottom of the cast and work up just because I’m not really sure what I’m going to say about Hoffman yet.

George Gaynes is hilarious as this lech actor on the soap opera where Hoffman gets his job (as a woman). Gaynes just has to be a believable buffoon, but he does it with such ease, he calms Tootsie a bit. It never seems too extreme just because Gaynes’s so sturdy. He tempers it, along with Dabney Coleman. Coleman’s the jerk director of the soap. He’s also dating Lange. He also doesn’t have a big enough part in the story during the second half. Coleman’s still good though. He’s got the right energy–and right buffoonery–to keep it going.

Charles Durning is about the only actor who doesn’t get anything to do overall. He gets a lot to do in the story, he’s just poorly written. He’s Lange’s dad, who gets a crush on Hoffman when Hoffman’s “in character” as the female actor. It’s a sitcom foil, which wastes Durning; there’s also some continuity issues regarding Durning’s supportive dad when Lange’s character is initially introduced as an alcoholic because of being an orphan? Maybe I missed some exposition, but I was paying attention.

Murray’s good. He’s dry, he’s funny, he’s Hoffman’s conscience if Hoffman had a somewhat disinterested, bemused conscience. He’s present through most of the film, though, which is important. Most other characters just evaporate when the story doesn’t need them. Tootsie keeps Murray around even when it doesn’t.

Now, Teri Garr. She’s great. She also gets one good scene and it’s after the movie’s been ignoring her for an hour. It’s not a great part, either. She’s such a function in the script, she and Hoffman’s subplot literally kicks off just because his particular lie to her. Any other lie and it would’ve been fine. But her great scene is great. It’s a shame she’s not around more.

The same sort of goes for Jessica Lange, who shares the same space in the film as Garr, at least until Garr leaves. Then Lange gets to be around and sometimes she gets stuff to do, sometimes she just gets to sit around. Lange’s best acting moments are far superior to the script’s moments for her as an actor. Pollack works on directing Lange more than anyone else in the film.

Including Hoffman, who Pollack sort of lets do his own thing, to great success. Hoffman’s performance, as an example of comedy Method acting, is outstanding. There’s not much of a role past the MacGuffin–Pollack relies way too heavily on montages after a certain point, including a completely nonsensical one–but it’s an outstanding performance. The film positions Hoffman front and center, then transforms him into his new role–an actor playing this female actor–on screen. It’s awesome. It also is nowhere near enough to fix the script problems because Tootsie’s a fairly shallow movie overall.

And it shouldn’t be. There’s so much potential, not just for Hoffman, but for everyone in the cast. Lange, Garr, Murray, Coleman… okay, not Durning, but everyone else and a lot with them. And maybe even Durning if the film remembered Lange’s alcoholism subplot instead of forgetting it immediately.

Tootsie’s all right. It should be better, it could’ve been a lot worse. It’s well made, has a nice pace, has a nice Dave Grusin score–and a nice original song from Stephen Bishop–and some phenomenal acting. Hoffman and Lange are excellent and Garr ought to be. She just doesn’t have enough material. Because Tootsie’s a tad thin.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Sydney Pollack; screenplay by Larry Gelbart and Murray Schisgal, based on a story by Don McGuire and Gelbart; director of photography, Owen Roizman; edited by Fredric Steinkamp and William Steinkamp; music by Dave Grusin; production designer, Peter S. Larkin; produced by Pollack and Dick Richards; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Dustin Hoffman (Michael Dorsey), Jessica Lange (Julie Nichols), Teri Garr (Sandy Lester), Bill Murray (Jeff Slater), Dabney Coleman (Ron Carlisle), Sydney Pollack (George Fields), George Gaynes (John Van Horn), Doris Belack (Rita Marshall), and Charles Durning (Les Nichols).


Caddyshack (1980, Harold Ramis)

What’s the funniest thing in Caddyshack? Bill Murray is a good first choice, Rodney Dangerfield, even Ted Knight is hilarious, but Chevy Chase actually wins out. He doesn’t have as many awesome scenes as Murray, but Murray’s got a couple mundane ones. Chase–who opens the movie with lead Michael O’Keefe–is fantastic throughout all of his scenes, even when he’s background.

The busyness in Caddyshack is one of its great strengths. Cindy Morgan’s temptress is a lot funnier when she’s reacting to the main action then when she’s taking the lead in a scene. The script doesn’t seem to know what to do with her and Ramis will cut to her for a reaction shot and she’s got nothing. But when she’s watching Dangerfield go wild, for example, she’s awesome.

Technically, the film’s far from perfect. Ramis’s composition runs hot and dry–it seems like he did a better job directing actors than framing shots. Cinematographer Stevan Larner probably doesn’t help the situation. The film lacks any visual distinctiveness. William C. Carruth’s editing is sometimes weak as well.

Great Johnny Mandel score though.

Other cast standouts include Brian Doyle-Murray, Lois Kibbee and Henry Wilcoxon. Doyle-Murray (one of the writers) has the most to do and he’s fantastic. Oh, and Scott Colomby as O’Keefe’s nemesis. He’s real good.

O’Keefe is so-so as the lead; he’s likable enough, which seems to be all the script asks of him.

Caddyshack is funny stuff. Chase and Murray are both awesome.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Harold Ramis; written by Brian Doyle-Murray, Ramis and Douglas Kenney; director of photography, Stevan Larner; edited by William C. Carruth; music by Johnny Mandel; production designer, Stan Jolley; produced by Kenney; released by Orion Pictures.

Starring Michael O’Keefe (Danny Noonan), Chevy Chase (Ty Webb), Ted Knight (Judge Elihu Smails), Rodney Dangerfield (Al Czervik), Sarah Holcomb (Maggie O’Hooligan), Cindy Morgan (Lacey Underall), Albert Salmi (Mr. Noonan), Scott Colomby (Tony D’Annunzio), Dan Resin (Dr. Beeper), Elaine Aiken (Mrs. Noonan), Henry Wilcoxon (The Bishop), Lois Kibbee (Mrs. Smails), Brian Doyle-Murray (Lou Loomis), Ann Ryerson (Grace), Thomas A. Carlin (Sandy McFiddish), John F. Barmon Jr. (Spaulding Smails), Peter Berkrot (Angie D’Annunzio), Hamilton Mitchell (Motormouth), Scott Powell (Gatsby), Ann Crilley (Suki), Cordis Heard (Wally), Brian McConnachie (Drew Scott) and Bill Murray (Carl Spackler).


The Man Who Knew Too Little (1997, Jon Amiel)

As unlikely as it might seem, The Man Who Knew Too Little could have been really good. Here’s the basic plot–an American rube, who loves movies and television so much he knows the lines, is confused for a dangerous psychopathic hitman involved in international intrigue while vacationing in the UK. All of his hitman lines, for example, could be from movies or something.

Instead, Too Little is a train wreck of a star vehicle for Bill Murray. One has to wonder if co-stars Joanne Whalley, Peter Gallagher and Alfred Molina recognized Murray’s terrible performance on set. If they did, and still managed such good performances opposite him, it says something about their skill… and professionalism.

Murray is awful. Obviously, the script is at fault to some degree, but it’s really Murray. An engaged actor could have overcome any script problems.

However, Murray’s not entirely at fault for Too Little. Director Amiel is the other obvious culprit. Amiel’s attempts at a spy thriller–even a spoof of a spy thriller–are awful. He apparently told composer Christopher Young to make the score sound like a Pink Panther cartoon. Young’s credited as “Chris Young” here… maybe he was embarrassed by the lame score. It’s technically fine, just stupid.

Another fine performance is from Anna Chancellor, in her too small role as Gallagher’s wife. Of course, the film forgets about branding she and Gallagher terrorists so it can get to its idiotic finish.

Too Little is dreadful and shouldn’t have been.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Jon Amiel; screenplay by Robert Farrar and Howard Franklin, based on a novel by Farrar; director of photography, Robert M. Stevens; edited by Pamela Power and Paul Karasick; music by Christopher Young; production designer, Jim Clay; produced by Arnon Milchan, Michael G. Nathanson and Mark Tarlov; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Bill Murray (Wallace Ritchie), Peter Gallagher (James Ritchie), Joanne Whalley (Lori), Alfred Molina (Boris ‘The Butcher’ Blavasky), Richard Wilson (Sir Roger Daggenhurst), John Standing (Gilbert Embleton), Simon Chandler (Hawkins), Geraldine James (Dr. Ludmilla Kropotkin), Anna Chancellor (Barbara Ritchie), Nicholas Woodeson (Sergei), Cliff Parisi (Uri), Dexter Fletcher (Otto) and Eddie Marsan (Mugger #1).


Moonrise Kingdom (2012, Wes Anderson)

With Moonrise Kingdom, Wes Anderson has finally put his directing craft so far ahead of his narrative, the narrative doesn’t matter. Neither, in Moonrise‘s case, do the actors. There isn’t a single outstanding performance in the film… maybe because Anderson and co-writer Roman Coppola don’t write one. They’re to the point of using Jason Schwartzman as a gag cameo.

Moonrise is purposefully, aggressively artificial–Bob Balaban plays an omnipotent, future narrator who interacts with the characters. But it doesn’t really matter because Anderson’s craft is outstanding and the writing is still decent. A lot of the scenes between preteen outcasts Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward are lovely.

Anderson shoots as much of the film as he can in profile; the camera pans to introduce new action instead of cutting. Partially due to the film’s artificiality–partially to Anderson and cinematographer Robert D. Yeoman’s photography–it works. Moonrise isn’t supposed to be real. For instance, Tilda Swinton’s reduced to her job title.

Swinton’s no great shakes in the picture, but she’s not supposed to be. She’s gag casting, much like Schwartzman and Harvey Keitel. Keitel’s the best of those three. Bruce Willis and Edward Norton both do pretty well, though neither have enough material. Anderson and Coppola give Bill Murray absolutely nothing–he doesn’t even interact with his kids in the film, just barks near them. As his wife, Frances McDormand is better.

Moonrise Kingdom‘s a masterfully produced film. It’s just pointless, save demonstrating Anderson’s abilities as a director.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Wes Anderson; written by Anderson and Roman Coppola; director of photography, Robert D. Yeoman; edited by Andrew Weisblum; music by Alexandre Desplat; production designer, Adam Stockhausen; produced by Anderson, Scott Rudin, Jeffrey Dawson and Steven M. Rales; released by Focus Features.

Starring Jared Gilman (Sam), Kara Hayward (Suzy), Edward Norton (Scout Master Ward), Bruce Willis (Captain Sharp), Bill Murray (Walt Bishop), Frances McDormand (Laura Bishop), Tilda Swinton (Social Services), Jason Schwartzman (Cousin Ben), Harvey Keitel (Commander Pierce) and Bob Balaban (Narrator).


Kingpin (1996, Peter Farrelly and Bobby Farrelly)

The Farrelly Brothers created the mainstream gross-out comedy here in Kingpin, with all the familiar trappings–a familiar, if somewhat independently minded cast (Chris Elliot is in Kingpin), the star in need of a hit (Bill Murray), the popular soundtrack, and the storyline entirely capable of being tame, then ramped up for the belly laughs.

The difference between Kingpin and what came after, and the Farrelly Brothers made lots of them, until they finally stopped having hits (they have finally stopped making hits, haven’t they–I try not to see their movies), is Woody Harrelson. Harrelson turns in an exceptional performance in Kingpin, turning his (dirty) comic strip character into a full-fledged human being by the end. One of the great things the Farrelly Brothers do here is keep him gross throughout. Even after he turns the corner, he’s still bald with a comb-over (lots of comb-overs, Murray’s being the most stunning), with terrible teeth.

The film’s a rehash of The Color of Money, just with bowling and forty-six year-old Randy Quaid playing a twenty-something. Quaid’s great too, but it’s hardly a stretch. In his best dramatic scenes, he seems to be imitating his brother, actually.

Vanessa Angel is fine as the sexpot with the heart of gold (she’s kind of like a Rosanna Arquette who can act).

Also impressive are the bowling scenes, when it becomes a straight narrative, only with Harrelson in his absurd makeup.

It’s fantastic, hilarious and exceptionally confident.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Peter Farrelly and Bobby Farrelly; written by Barry Fanaro and Mort Nathan; director of photography, Mark Irwin; edited by Christopher Greenbury; music by Freedy Johnston; production designer, Sidney J. Bartholomew Jr.; produced by Brad Krevoy, Steven Stabler and Bradley Thomas; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Woody Harrelson (Roy Munson), Randy Quaid (Ishmael), Vanessa Angel (Claudia), Bill Murray (Ernie McCracken) and Chris Elliott (the Gambler).


Zombieland (2009, Ruben Fleischer)

I can’t believe Zombieland got made. I mean, I understand it’s a reasonable financial success and all, but who greenlighted this film? It’s from a couple no name writers and a no name director and the best known cast member is Woody Harrelson.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Woody Harrelson and have been an avid supporter for many a year, but really… it’s way too… smart to be a studio picture. Even when it does silly, obvious things, it’s leagues better than what I was expecting.

For instance, the Bill Murray cameo–it does work; it’s funny but it’d be funnier if it were someone who hadn’t been through a nasty public divorce and needed to do image clean-up. Plus, there’s a comment about Murray’s dramatic turns, but nothing about him running out of the Oscars in a huff when he doesn’t win.

I think Mel Gibson would have been a much better choice, especially since he isn’t a comic actor in the same way. But then, Mel Gibson isn’t a Sony slash Columbia slash Tri-Star actor and Zombieland is one of the biggest studio pictures I can think of–it’s the Gremlins 2 of the zombie genre.

Acting wise, it’s all solid, but unspectacular. Jesse Eisenberg is really good, but he’s playing the same character he played in Adventureland. Harrelson’s funny and good but it’s no surprise he’s either.

Fleisher’s direction is comic-oriented, so it’s hard to tell about him.

But it’s really good stuff.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Ruben Fleischer; written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick; director of photography, Michael Bonvillain; edited by Alan Baumgarten; music by David Sardy; production designer, Maher Ahmad; produced by Gavin Polone; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Woody Harrelson (Tallahassee), Jesse Eisenberg (Columbus), Emma Stone (Wichita), Abigail Breslin (Little Rock), Amber Heard (406), Bill Murray (Bill Murray) and Derek Graf (Clown Zombie).


The Limits of Control (2009, Jim Jarmusch)

Someone–Ebert maybe–is going to laud The Limits of Control. The nicest thing one can really say about it is it isn’t abjectly terrible. There aren’t many bad performances (Tilda Swinton’s lame and Bill Murray’s awful and Isaach De Bankolé is weak when he has more lines than the Terminator) and Jarmusch really does know how to frame a shot. But it’s a piece of malarky. It’s supposed to come off as subversive and anti-American in the end–I can’t really explain how without spoiling–and instead it just comes off as silly. You want to see sublime, subversive commentary on American foreign policy, read Warren Ellis’s Crécy. At its best, Limits of Control is obvious… at its worst, well, to put it bluntly, Jarmusch is full of shit.

Jarmusch has always been–often been–an international filmmaker. Limits of Control is a fine example. Set in Spain with an African leading man, there are Mexican actors, British, American, Spanish, probably a French actor in there somewhere… Jarmusch’s has got some great plays with language. But this exotic cast list is mostly just a diversion. It’s to make the audience feel like he or she is watching something, well, art house.

The most striking success of Limits of Control is its commentary on the spy thriller genre in general. It owes a lot to Hitchcock’s 1930s British thrillers, with the MacGuffin somewhat extracted from the film. The result is a boring two hours of people acting suspiciously with coincidence after coincidence occurring without a thread to tie them. So what. Jarmusch could have cut the pay-off scenes out of The Lady Vanishes and he’d get a similar effect. Well, maybe not The Lady Vanishes because so much of it relies on chemistry and Limits of Control has none. It’s like Jarmusch knew he’d have to do something to get people–critics–to talk about his film, so he made Paz de la Huerta take off her clothes for every scene. What’s the effect? Explicit nudity’s boring. Wow, good one. It’s not like Paul Verhoeven didn’t make explicit nudity boring fifteen years ago.

At times it seems like Jarmusch is going somewhere. Like it’s going to be The Courier’s Tragedy or something. It never is. In fact, the best way to describe The Limits of Control is The Courier’s Tragedy without the point. It’s Jarmusch spinning his wheels until the end–the big reveal in The Limits of Control is, literally, a pin.

Then some of it slowly starts to make sense. But it’s dumb, so who cares?

John Hurt’s great. Jean-François Stévenin has a good small role. de la Huerta isn’t bad. When he’s not talking De Bankolé is great.

I think Jarmusch was going for some kind of mystical realism with the film too.

He fails.

Oh, and how did he misuse Christopher Doyle? The colors are all flat and dead.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by Jim Jarmusch; director of photography, Christopher Doyle; edited by Jay Rabinowitz; music by Boris; production designer, Eugenio Caballero; produced by Gretchen McGowan and Stacey E. Smith; released by Focus Features.

Starring Isaach De Bankolé (Lone Man), Alex Descas (Creole), Jean-François Stévenin (French), Óscar Jaenada (Waiter), Luis Tosar (Violin), Paz de la Huerta (Nude), Tilda Swinton (Blonde), Youki Kudoh (Molecules), John Hurt (Guitar), Gael García Bernal (Mexican), Hiam Abbass (Driver) and Bill Murray (American).


The Royal Tenenbaums (2001, Wes Anderson)

The Royal Tenenbaums is a profound examination of the human condition. It’s hard to think about Tenenbaums, which Anderson made as a precious object–he tends to put the actors on the right and fill the left side of the frame with exactly placed sundries, sometimes it’s the carefully placed minutiae, but he usually puts those items on either side of a centrally placed actor–as a character piece. The film tells the story of specific, highly fictional characters (I don’t think I’ve ever used highly to modify fictional before) in a very specific place–it’s New York, but it’s not New York. It’s an otherworldly setting. There are no “normal” people in the film until the end, and even then it’s questionable….

Watching Tenenbaums, the only thing I could think of as a comparison was something a writing professor once told one of my classmates. The student asked–after we just got through reading an interview with Faulkner–if he could write science fiction. The professor said sure, just as long as it was about the things (the human heart in conflict with itself, others and its environment) Faulkner had been talking about. The Royal Tenenbaums, with the meticulous sets, the strict composition and the exclusive characters, is like really good science fiction. The relationship between Luke Wilson and Gwyneth Paltrow (adoptive siblings in love) is not a Hollywood standard. Anderson and Owen Wilson’s script somehow makes such elements moving, but still funny (maybe not so much Luke Wilson and Paltrow, who are sort of the film’s protagonists–definitely the relationship between Gene Hackman and Danny Glover though).

Even Ben Stiller, who has the film’s easiest role (and gets the easiest out, which I always hold against him at the beginning of the film but never by the end), is irreplaceable. Stiller takes a backseat to Grant Rosenmeyer and Jonah Meyerson (as his sons); their interactions with Hackman are a much funnier way to spend running time, but the film still pulls Stiller in by the end, giving him one great moment in the film.

It’s incredible people–critics, the Academy Awards–didn’t recognize Hackman for this performance, because it’s the closest thing he’s ever done to a slapstick role and he’s perfect in it. It’s a magnificent performance, full of life–every time Hackman stops talking, there’s an anticipation for what he’s going to say next… the film’s a wonderful viewing experience, even after the drama takes over.

The way Anderson and Owen Wilson approach the drama is interesting. It isn’t the climax, which is a more comedic moment, it’s a little while before (I wonder if they used the same formula in Bottle Rocket and Rushmore–I know I should remember). Tenenbaums is so good it’s hard to write about, but five or six hundred words also can’t cover it all. I might never get around to mentioning the use of music–like the instrumental “Hey Jude” at the open or the Van Morrison at the close. I can’t remember it all.

Anjelica Huston’s great, Danny Glover’s great (why he doesn’t get more eclectic roles like this one I don’t understand), Paltrow and Luke Wilson are wonderful together–see, they deserve a few hundred words just themselves–and I haven’t even gotten to the narration read by Alec Baldwin.

I remember, going to see The Life Aquatic, wondering if Anderson could top Tenenbaums. He never will./p>

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Wes Anderson; written by Anderson and Owen Wilson; director of photography, Robert D. Yeoman; edited by Dylan Tichenor; music by Mark Mothersbaugh; production designer, David Wasco; produced by Anderson, Barry Mendel and Scott Rudin; released by Touchstone Pictures.

Starring Gene Hackman (Royal Tenenbaum), Anjelica Huston (Etheline Tenenbaum), Ben Stiller (Chas Tenenbaum), Gwyneth Paltrow (Margot Tenenbaum), Luke Wilson (Richie Tenenbaum), Owen Wilson (Eli Cash), Bill Murray (Raleigh St. Clair), Danny Glover (Henry Sherman), Seymour Cassel (Dusty) and Kumar Pallana (Pagoda); narrated by Alec Baldwin.


Rushmore (1998, Wes Anderson)

The best moment in Rushmore, the one it all comes together, is at the end, when Jason Schwartzmann dedicates his play to his mother. There’s a brief cut to Seymour Cassel and his reaction. It’s a beautiful little moment and quieter than the subsequent (and also incredibly quiet) moment with Vietnam vet Bill Murray tearing after watching the play. There’s stuff going on in Rushmore and Anderson and Wilson aren’t going to explain it to us. They make us aware of it–there’s an early mention of Murray’s service and a good deal of material about Schwartzmann’s mother’s passing, but there’s never anything about Murray’s feelings about Vietnam or Cassel’s experience with his wife’s death. It’s a stunning little move, infinitely precise, which might be the best way to describe Rushmore.

The film runs ninety-three minutes. Anderson and Wilson’s narrative, so exactly told in scene, has a searching quality to it. It’s impossible to label the film–it’s not just a friendship story between Schwartzmann and Murray or a (albeit strange) romance between Schwartzmann and Olivia Williams or a romantic triangle between Schwartzmann, Williams and Murray. Rushmore is all of those things, in addition to being a father and son story, a friendship story (between Schwartzmann and sidekick Mason Gamble) and a romance between Schwartzmann and Sara Tanaka. I can’t even get into the relationship between Schwartzmann and Brian Cox. It’s all too intricate and complex. It’s a film where the way an actor walks into the frame changes a scene dramatically, so unraveling and codifying it is a lot more work than I want to do (and probably impossible without a lot of notes). It’s an exponential web.

The first time I saw Rushmore, it didn’t blow me away. Looking at it now, with the performances–there isn’t a single unimpressive performance–with Anderson and Wilson’s control of dialogue and scene, not to mention Anderson’s direction… it’s clear there was something wrong with me. The second time I saw it, I got it. But even getting it, I don’t think I really appreciated it the way one can appreciate the film now. Every line delivery is full of so much vibrance–the scenes with Schwartzmann and Williams, it’s hard to even listen, because watching Williams’s reactions to him is so great.

The film also asks a great deal of its audience. The viewer has to fill in, in an instant, what Schwartzmann’s been doing since dropping out of school–Anderson and Wilson put the the onus on the viewer to arrange all the details him or herself. Or when it has to be clear to the viewer Murray and Williams have broken up before Schwartzmann asks about it. Rushmore is not a passive experience.

As for Murray… Rushmore really is Murray’s finest performance, before he started chasing Oscars. He’s as present in scenes where people talk about him as he is in his actual scenes.

Schwartzmann runs the film. He has to carry the whole thing not just with his performance, but with his presence. Schwartzmann’s expression rarely changes, but the character development–and seeing how he’s reacting–is stunning.

Williams, Gamble, Cox, all are great, all have some fantastic scenes. The script asks a lot of the actors, because they have to sell things in short periods of time, brief moments, and everyone comes through perfectly. Williams’s performance might be the film’s best, even better than Murray’s, which seems kind of impossible but kind of not.

Rushmore is a magnificent film.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Wes Anderson; written by Anderson and Owen Wilson; director of photography, Robert D. Yeoman; edited by David Moritz; music by Mark Mothersbaugh; production designer, David Wasco; produced by Barry Mendel and Paul Schiff; released by Touchstone Pictures.

Starring Jason Schwartzman (Max Fischer), Bill Murray (Herman Blume), Olivia Williams (Rosemary Cross), Seymour Cassel (Bert Fischer), Brian Cox (Dr. Nelson Guggenheim), Mason Gamble (Dirk Calloway), Sara Tanaka (Margaret Yang), Stephen McCole (Magnus Buchan), Connie Nielsen (Mrs. Calloway), Luke Wilson (Dr. Peter Flynn), Dipak Pallana (Mr. Adams) and Andrew Wilson (Coach Beck).


The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004, Wes Anderson)

The problem with The Life Aquatic reveals itself quite clearly in the final act, as the cast all gives Bill Murray shoulder squeezes of support. The scene is supposed to mean something profound. It’s Murray confronting not just his Moby Dick (a quest for vengeance lost in the film, maybe because they knew it was a silly idea as a major plot point), but also himself. His mortality, his place in the world, you know, the yada yada. And it is the yada yada, because the viewer isn’t watching Murray’s character confront himself, he or she is watching Murray play a character confronting himself. The Life Aquatic manages to create a particular suspension of disbelief–the little stop motion undersea creatures are exquisite and fully part of the film’s reality–but it never manages to convince (or even try to convince) the viewer he or she isn’t watching a construct. A hipster event picture. It’s a great hipster event picture, maybe the best (since who makes decent hipster pictures except Anderson), but there’s no depth to it. It’s a fake.

The Life Aquatic wasn’t expensive by Hollywood standards–it was pretty cheap actually, considering the cast, effects and water shooting–but it’s a huge Wes Anderson picture. There are action scenes–Anderson’s pretty good at them too, incorporating both his self-aware style as well as the action scene necessities. There are huge sets–Mark Friedberg’s production design–is wonderful. There’s always something to look at in The Life Aquatic, which is good, because the film frequently gets boring.

Anderson and co-writer Noah Baumbach think swearing is funny. Swearing can be funny and some of the swear-based jokes in Life Aquatic are okay (they don’t get belly-laughs, but they’re okay), but they rely on them all the time. Or uncomfortable situations. It’s like Anderson sat down and watched the trailers to Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums and thought he should make a feature-length trailer. There’s not an honest human moment in the entire film, as the actors deliver their lines to the camera, not to each other. Owen Wilson–who really should have co-wrote the picture instead of acted in it–is the worst. His Kentucky fish out of water is an affected performance, with the whole hook being him being Owen Wilson acting in another Wes Anderson movie. None of his scenes are bad, but seeing him opposite Willem Dafoe, who hurls himself head first into his role as an insecure German crew member, is painful. Dafoe pushes through to the other side with his performance, while Wilson’s happy with staying celluloid.

After Dafoe, Cate Blanchett gives the film’s second-best performance, even though she has little to do… watching Blanchett act–even in a shallow character–is great. Murray’s fine, so is Anjelica Huston. Jeff Goldblum’s okay, playing the standard post-Jurassic Park Goldblum standard. Bud Cort’s got a great small part.

The Life Aquatic is a frustrating film. As filmmaking, it’s masterful and exciting. As a fiction, it’s a complete waste of time. There’s more insight into the human condition in mediocre fortune cookies.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Wes Anderson; written by Anderson and Noah Baumbach; director of photography, Robert D. Yeoman; music by Mark Mothersbaugh; production designer, Mark Friedberg; produced by Anderson, Barry Mendel and Scott Rudin; released by Touchstone Pictures.

Starring Bill Murray (Steve Zissou), Owen Wilson (Ned Plimpton), Cate Blanchett (Jane Winslett-Richardson), Anjelica Huston (Eleanor Zissou), Willem Dafoe (Klaus Daimler), Jeff Goldblum (Hennessey), Michael Gambon (Drakoulious), Bud Cort (Bill Ubell) and Seymour Cassel (Esteban de Plantier).


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