Single Person’s Movie: The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

It’s 2 a.m. and you awake with a jerk, alone in your fully lit apartment and still on the couch. On TV, the credits of some movie you’ve already seen a billion times are scrolling by. It feels like rock bottom. And we know, because we’re just like you: single.

Need a movie to keep you company until you literally can’t keep your eyes open? Join us tonight when we pass out to The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou [starting @ 9:30 p.m. on IFC]

Why we’ll try to stay up and watch it: It’s been a tough few years for Wes Anderson. The crown prince of twee still has his major fans—count us among them—but to say the general public has cooled to his charms would be an understatement. Like a hipster version of Woody Allen, his movies seem preordained to become financial failures. In fact, it’s actually hard to believe that The Royal Tenenbaums grossed over $50 million dollars on its release back in 2001—now if a Wes Anderson film can gross a third of that, it would be considered a smash hit. Still, without the success of Tenenbaums, he would have never gotten $50 million dollars to make The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. The idea that Disney-owned Touchstone gave Wes Anderson that much money to go and make a semi-autobiographical art-house film about what it’s like to be a director is one of the greatest gags ever pulled. Everything about The Life Aquatic is epic, expanded and unruly. It feels like Mr. Anderson was so giddy about getting all that money, he just took his budget and threw every penny up onscreen. Working from a script co-written by the great Noah Baumbach that reveals more and more layers on each viewing, he truly creates a paean to the art of movies that would have made Fellini proud.

Of course, Bill Murray stars, but he doesn’t look particularly happy about that fact. Mr. Murray shot The Life Aquatic during his race for the Best Actor trophy at the 2004 Academy Awards and you can just sense the extreme bitterness over that defeat in every smug and sniping line reading. (It’s ironic that Sean Penn’s Oscars have come at the expense of two fan favorites; no wonder people dislike him!) We’d like to argue that Mr. Murray has never been better, but that isn’t the case. Instead, we’ll just say this: it’s not very often that you can see someone pull a gun on a pregnant woman and get a laugh; in The Life Aquatic, Mr. Murray accomplishes just this feat.

 When we’ll probably fall asleep: As if Wes Anderson wasn’t enough to get all the geeks atwitter, the under-the-sea creature work is done by stop-motion genius Henry Selick. We’re not fans ourselves—thankfully we don’t have any Nightmare Before Christmas dolls lying around our apartment; we’re single, but that doesn’t mean we don’t want a date—but we’ll make it until the breathtaking appearance of his infamous Jaguar Shark, 80 minutes into the movie. Mr. Anderson combines Mr. Selick’s creation with some great work from Mr. Murray and scores it all with the Sigor Ros song “Staralfur.” Like the rest of the film, the scene is a menagerie of ideas and styles that should never congeal. And yet it manages to be one of the most affecting moments Mr. Anderson has ever put onscreen. Suffice it to say, we’ll have some tissues handy.

Single Person’s Movie: The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou