A cousin of mine described this movie as Wes Anderson imitating Wes Anderson. I didn't get the same notion, yet I will say this. Anderson hinted at pretentious indulgence with Rushmore, upped the ante with The Royal Tenenbaums, now he's created an entire movie out of it. What do I mean by pretentious indulgence? Well, in Bottlerocket you had a movie dominated by interesting characters. The story was solid as well. You combined the two and the result was an unforgettable classic (according to me at least).
But with each followup film Anderson has forgotten to create vivid characters. Only Gene Hackmans character from Tenenbaums was a character with any life. His films now consist of mopey duds that stare blankly into space. His characters don't speak as much because not much is going on -- there's no script to work with. Does he want the viewer to figure out everything? He's forgotten that his job is to entertain and maybe getting us to think. He certainly didn't entertain and the only thoughts I had were how dull this movie was.
The characters of this film also had a major flaw -- they were imperfect people but you despised them. At least Hackmans character from Tenenbaums and the morons from Bottlerocket (especially Dignan) were likable. Despite their weaknesses (and recklessness) you couldn't help but warm up to them. The characters in Life Aquatic (aside from Wilson) were cold, cruel, and not the slightest bit charming. Not only that but the overwrought atmosphere made it impossible for one of them to stand out. Anderson was obviously going for subtle humor. The characters were always subdued -- even when hijacked by pirates. Deadpan humor worked in Airplane but not here. Instead the humor seemed calculated and mean spirited. The blaze attitude also seemed apathetic, as if the characters themselves were about to yawn.
I also found the profanity in this movie untimely. Foul language can add humor but it can also debase a film. Yes, it debased it this time around. And when Goldblum's character smacked the dog, I wanted to smack him. Here Anderson had a dead scene so he went for shock value. He's never had to rely on shock until now. This dog slapping, an obvious attempt at humor, reinforced what was apparent throughout the film -- none of the characters were likable. If Goldblums character had stood out and we actually liked his sleaziness maybe this cheap gimmick would have worked.
Sadly Anderson's career path is headed to the ash heap. Tenebaums seemed like a breakout and luckily he still packs his movies with good tunes. But his movies have become slow, weary, overblown affairs. I know the artsy fartsy crowd loves Anderson's fascination with his own so-called genius. I hate to offend the urban snob community but this movie lacked substance and style and it shows that Anderson isn't living up to the potential he displayed in Bottlerocket. Hope he can awake from the hypnosis that is destroying his films.