Wes and Me: A 30-Something Fan’s Relationship With a Filmmaker

Films, filmmakers, and actors/actresses define eras of your life. It’s bound to happen when you’re a hardcore movie-watcher. Name any on-screen (or even off-screen) personality, and I can tell you when I became aware of their work. One day in the fall of 1998 when I was 22 years old, my friend and I made a trek to Eastgate Cinema in Madison, Wisconsin. Our goal was to see a smaller, indie film that just happened to star Bill Murray. The name of the film was Rushmore. Little did I know that I’d be following that filmmaker, watching him grow and stagnate, achieve and fail, through my early adulthood.

Wes Anderson’s films could be uncomfortable to some. O R they?!?!

I had a strange reaction to Rushmore. I thought that it was hilarious. I also felt extremely uncomfortable because Max Fischer’s awkward teen behavior cut a little too close to the bone. After all, I was just six years removed from those years. All the same, I was impressed by the film. When the film hit VHS (because VHS was still a thing then) months later, I re-watched it and loved it. Apparently your 22nd to 23rd year is the one where you forget teenage awkwardness. Then The Royal Tenenbaums came out in 2001. I howled like a hyena throughout the movie, enough so that I actually annoyed other people who were watching it with me. Suddenly, there was a director I could recognize and appreciate as part of my generation.

Wes Anderson released his next film- The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou– on Christmas day, 2004. I was 28 by then, and I’d since seen- and been disappointed by- his debut film, Bottle Rocket (1996). But I still had loved Rushmore and Tenenbaums. And so I rushed home a day early from my Christmas with my family to see The Life Aquatic as soon as possible. I was… disappointed. I enjoyed the movie enough but it had lacked the sizzle of Rushmore and Tenenbaums. And yet, I remained firmly in Wes Anderson’s camp. Zissou  was the fourth of his films that I’d seen and I hadn’t really hated anything he’d made. At worst, he was a victim of his own success for me. At best, he was one of the few filmmakers of my generation making artistic, but highly accessible, films. I think it’s worth noting that I’ve since gained a broader appreciation of Zissou, much like Rushmore. And whatever I thought of the film, the soundtrack from Zissou served as the soundtrack of a very happy 2005. Anderson’s soundtracks have always been gold.

Naked Natalie Portman certainly didn’t hurt my appreciation for Darjeeling.

Next came The Darjeeling Limited and the Hotel Chevalier short in 2007. At the time, I only had a few weekends free to catch the movie in theatres in St. Louis. I missed the boat, and wound up watching the film in 2008. By that point in my life, I had started watching better films and trying my damnedest to learn more about the veritable guts of filmmaking. The years between Zissou and Darjeeling were the years that Kurosawa, Bergman, Malle, and Buñuel blew my mind. It was an odd experience, looking at a filmmaker I liked when I was- basically- a troglodyte when it came to film appreciation, with this new knowledge. And yet, it held strong for me. I thought that the little flourishes that Wes Anderson had put into Darjeeling- the suitcase at the end, the father, the tip of the cap to Indian cinema- had pushed it to a higher level. Realistically, I was simply aware of things that I wasn’t aware of before. Whatever the case, I had found my stride with Wes Anderson again.

The next Wes Anderson film was The Fantastic Mr. Fox in 2009. I saw this over Thanksgiving weekend with my oldest nephew, who was 12 at the time. I got a huge kick out of the fact that his reaction was eerily similar to my own first exposure to Wes Anderson, with Rushmore. He said that the film was really, really weird (I’m paraphrasing, but not by much). But he had liked it and thought it was funny. Personally, I had enjoyed it a ton. By then, I was familiar with Wes Anderson and I knew what to expect. It had delivered in every way. Wes Anderson couldn’t even make an animated film without giving up his tropes- the nostalgic feel of things (it came from a Roald Dahl book, a children’s classic from 1970, and seemed possessed by animation from that era), the son struggling with his father, the amazing soundtrack.

Along the way, Wes Anderson’s films developed a nasty reputation. Some folks feel that his films don’t resonate with them. Still others point out his tropes in humorous ways. For instance, there’s this, this (jump to 1:12), and the Wes Anderson Bingo Card. He’s got daddy issues, he’s too quirky, he’s a hipster… These are the charges leveled on Wes Anderson’s first 14 years of work. It leaves me very conflicted. I’m a fan of Wes Anderson. I think that he’s an auteur in ways that few filmmakers are in my generation. And yet, I can’t deny the charges leveled against him. There’s a great deal of truth there.

Hello yellow filters, my old friend. I’ve come to talk with you again.

Here we are almost 14 years since I was introduced to Wes Anderson. Moonrise Kingdom has hit theatres. Yet again, personal circumstances and limited availability are making it difficult for me to see a Wes Anderson movie in theatres, just as was the case with Darjeeling. And yet again, a Wes Anderson film marks a moment in time for me as a filmgoer. My reaction to his films has been a metronome for my own film appreciation. With each step that he’s matured as a filmmaker, so too have I matured as a film watcher. Wes Anderson and I have reached this point (sort of) together. I think it’s hilarious, both as a parody of Anderson and a testament to the way that his films have been a part of my life, to ask: this time tomorrow, where will we be?


Filed under Movies

26 responses to “Wes and Me: A 30-Something Fan’s Relationship With a Filmmaker

  1. I don’t understand people who hate Wes Anderson. His films are unique, fresh and wonderful; how is that a bad thing? I loved Bottle Rocket, Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums, but I’ve yet to see anything else from him. I’ll be sure to rectify that ASAP!

    • Of what’s still out there- and this is very much my own personal preference- I’d go in this order: Darjeeling, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Life Aquatic. And I’ll let you know where Moonrise Kingdom falls when I get to it.

  2. Great post John. I’m also an avid fan of Anderson’s. Like yourself, I was a bit disappointed in The Life Aquatic but it certainly does grow with multiple viewings. The Darjeeling Limited is a modern classic in my eyes. It so under appreciated. Can’t wait to see Moonrise Kingdom.

    • I really owe Darjeeling a re-watch. As much as I liked it the first time, I haven’t really seen it properly (start to finish) since.

  3. Also a fan of Wes’s films. I liked all his films at different degrees. For me, The Royal Tenenbaums is the crowning achievement, I haven’t seen Moonrise Kingdom, but I have something with The Royal Tenenbaums that gets me.
    The whole father issue of his films is something that I can relate a lot personally. Every film might be a variation on it but still I love it.

    • Yeah, I always come back to Tenenbaums. It’s the one that I’ve seen the most and enjoyed the most. Those yellow filters really add something to their world.

  4. Phil

    I think Life Aquatic and Darjeeling are under rated, although I’ve only seen them once. I saw Moonrise Kingdom last night and I’m sure your expectations are already high, but I thought it was his best since Rushmore. Slate posted Wes Anderson Bingo, and they have a point…

    • That Slate bingo card is hilarious.

      The good thing about Wes Anderson is that I can’t manage expectations. I know what I’m going to see (on some very basic levels).

  5. heyzeus

    We’re very similar people in a lot of ways, John – Wes Anderson movies hold a special place in my life story as well, and I also remember the circumstances where I saw Rushmore. (I was living in Houston at the time, so it was great fun recognizing so many scenes of the film in real life. One of my friends even has a one-line speaking role in the film b/c he went to the private school that is the real life Rushmore and auditioned for any part in the movie).

    And for that reason, when my wife and I finally got a chance to go see a movie for the first time in the 9 months since our son was born, we made that movie Moonrise Kingdom. When you see it, you will recognize all of the tropes that some love and same hate in Wes’s movies. There are some marvelous tracking shots and meticulous detail that tells the story of an old home and the family who lives in it without any words.

    What Moonrise Kingdom has, though, that I feel some of his more recent films have lacked, is heart, and investment in the characters at the heart of the story. In a movie with Ed Norton, Havey Keitel, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, and Bruce Willis, the greatest – and best acted – roles are two unknown 12 year olds and their quirky, heart felt foray into whatever love means. It’s a really touching movie, sad and funny and happy and beautiful. I think you’ll love it when you see it.

    In a way, it feels like it could be about a 12 year old Margot and Richie Tenenbaum. I mean that in the best way possible.

    • I’d love to see a film about 12 year old Margot and Richie. Moonrise Kingdom is getting killer reviews so far, so I’m going to feel extra shame if I don’t get to it before it leaves theatres. I still don’t understand why the major multiplexes don’t pick up his films until later, if at all (at least, here in STL).

      That cast is epic.

  6. Wow, just change all the names and places and that would pretty much be my story too. Strange and cool. Well done blog brother!

  7. I’m a big fan of Wes, too. Not disillusioned enough to think that he is flawless (because no filmmaker is), but still a very big fan. I appreciate that he sticks to his own kind of style.

    • I have to admit, I’d like to see how he’d fare if he broke away a little bit and tried something new. But as long as he keeps doing his thing, I’ll keep watching and enjoying.

  8. Get a room already!! hehehe

    I am glad you like his work matey, although I find it a little yawny! Sorry.

  9. Awesome, John! I LOVE how you made this so personal yet informative. I have only seen ONE Wes Anderson film and I did like it. I have yet to venture into his other work but now I REALLY want to see ‘Rushmore.’ I LOVE Bill Murray so the fact that he’s worked with him sooo many times is saying something. His films are certainly quirky, but I give him props for creating something so unlike anything else Hollywood offers out there. So yeah, he gets points for originality for sure.

  10. Really cool retrospective, John. I finally watched Rushmore for the first time last week and enjoyed it quite a bit. I’m looking forward to going back through his filmography.

    Also, thanks for linking to that Super Bowl video. Friggin’ hilarious!

  11. nimorphi

    So I have seen Rushmore, Tenenbaums, and life aquatic and didn’t like any of them. I think that all his films are pretentious and trying to hard. Usually whenever someone says that they really like Wes Anderon I roll my eyes and judge them harshly. But a few weeks ago I went my wife dragged me to go see Moonrise Kingdom and I really enjoyed it. I thought it was one of the better films I have seen in awhile. It makes me want to go back and rewatch his earlier work and see if I still judge it as harshly. Probably still will for Life Aquatic.

    • That’s an interesting take, and now I’m even more intrigued by Moonrise Kingdom. Because your comment sort of implies that there might be something very unique about it.

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