Monday, May 9, 2011

Wes Anderson: Style Over Substance



Wes Anderson makes movies that are essentially about nothing. After revisiting “The Royal Tenenbaums” (which, I might add, is probably his best work that I’ve seen) a few weekends ago, I’ve been finding it very difficult to acknowledge him as a true force behind contemporary American cinema. And I feel that this is important because I know that so many would disagree with me. The fact is this: I don’t think Wes is much interested in substance. How could he be? He crafts shallow plots that are littered with cartoonish characters and a quirky sense of humor, not to mention a multitude of unnecessary style devices. For whatever reason, this superficial bullshit seems to appeal to loads of people. As for me, I am unimpressed.

As far as I’m concerned, the guy has one true skill: he is able to convey intimate emotions that all of us are familiar with. Some demonstrative scenes that immediately come to mind are Royal and Ethyl walking through a park, or Margot seeing Richie as she walks out of the bus, or Ethyl and Henry after she admits that she hasn’t “slept with a man in eighteen years.” The influence of Martin Scorsese (who happens to be Anderson’s close friend and mentor) is clearly evident; like Scorsese, Anderson can fluently meld eclectic soundtracks with imagery to a wonderful effect. Both directors also seem to be interested in characters that do bad things, but are unable to control themselves from doing these bad things. But while Scorsese elevated this notion to brilliance in such complex psychological studies as “Taxi Driver” and “Raging Bull”, Anderson falls short of expectations by using it as a humor device. Dry humor, quirky character interactions, on-screen captions and stop-motion animation do not make you a genius. Sorry, Wes.

How has he been able to convince people that his art is so profound? Sure, you get a few laughs, a few feel-good moments, but in all honesty, what else could anyone possibly get from Wes Anderson’s films? Fans will tell you it’s the originality of his approach to directing and writing that makes him so great. Okay, this is valid (kind of). Like Luis Buñuel (another key influence), Anderson creates a world of absurdity, surrealism, and mischief in his films. But while the great Buñuel used this approach to expose hypocrisy and flaws of modern society, Anderson seems to be doing it just for the sake of being quirky. At first, Anderson’s quirky, whimsical atmosphere seems uniquely entertaining and promising. But after awhile, it is so accentuated and overdone that it becomes annoyingly futile. Anderson’s movies don’t tell us anything, and they don’t ask us to look beneath the surface, which is almost entirely where his movies exist. They serve simply to showcase his skills as a stylist, nothing more and nothing less. And they appeal to people who are just as pretentious as Wes himself is.

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