Film ó The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (R)

The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (R)

by Amy Diaz

Nerdy insularity, geeky whimsy, deadpan irony, dollhouse anachronisms and a visual style something between Pixar and PBS collide and, behold, it is the latest Wes Anderson movie, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.

In any Wes Anderson movie, the real world does not exist. People are both absurdly naÔve and surprisingly sharp-edged ó itís like watching a 4-year-old swear and steal a car, disturbing but charmingly so.

Steve Zissou (Bill Murray) is like Jacques Cousteau without all the success, fame, equipment and actual desire for scientific study. His movies, once money-making adventures full of bizarre animals, now scrape the bottom of the oceanic barrel ó the only exciting part of his most recent film happens off-camera when his friend is eaten by a jaguar shark. Consumed with a mash of self-pity, needy thrill-seeking-ness and an almost overwhelming weariness, Zissou decides to take his crew out on a voyage to find and kill the shark.

What is the scientific purpose of this? Why, revenge, of course.

Meet Team Zissou. Thereís the snarly, jealous Klaus (Willem Dafoe), thereís far-smarter-than-he-is Zissou wife Eleanor (Anjelica Huston), thereís bond-company stooge Bill (Bud Cort), thereís the Brazillian (Seu Jorge) whose sole purpose is to sing David Bowie songs in Portuguese, thereís the magazine reporter Jane (Cate Blanchett) and then thereís Ned Plimpton (Owen Wilson), the maybe, maybe-not illegitimate son of Zissou. They set off in an uncertain sea in an idiosyncratic but woefully under-outfitted submarine that looks like a cross between a fantasy playhouse (it has a blue tiled hot tub room) and a Civil War death trap. The only real assistance Team Zissou receives is from a pair of albino dolphins that swim alongside the ship that are supposed to (but donít) help with navigation. They encounter pirates, steal from a competing oceanic exploration team ó led by Eleanorís ex-husband Alistair (Jeff Goldblum at his most Goldblumy), attempt to rescue a hostage and Steve and Ned fight for the affection of Jane, who happens to be pregnant with her married editorís child.

Actual genuine moments of violence intertwine with the sun-baked sea- and shore-scapes and with the familiar Anderson scenes of dry absurdity played out in front of a screen full of small, slightly lunatic action. The movie isnít giggles and action; itís what-the-hell punctuated by moments so surprising that your laughter is accompanied by a spray of soda from your nose. 

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou isnít as immediately good ó whatever that means for a Wes Anderson movie ó as, say, Rushmore or The Royal Tenenbaums but it is way weirder. And, while itís not the best movie Iíve ever seen, Iím eager to see it again. Where else can you find a grown-up fairy tale that wraps you in whimsical oddness before kicking you in the head?

- Amy Diaz

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