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The Royal Tenenbaums

The Writer’s Room: The Films of Wes Anderson

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Wes-Heads rejoice! The release of Wes Anderson’s newest picture — Asteroid City — has the Frida’s writing staff in a symmetrical, whimsical mood. To coincide with the film’s release, select writing team members have chosen to highlight their personal favorites of Anderson’s films and write a little bit on what makes each particular work click for them.

Austin Jaye, Administrative Assistant

Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009):

Few terms are as synonymous with each other as “perfectionism” and “stop-motion.” The thing is, renowned perfectionist Wes Anderson had already showed his penchant for stop-motion before others may assume. It was through The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, thanks to Henry Selick’s gorgeously animated sea creatures, that Anderson revealed a marvelous affiliation with the art of crafting physical frame-after-frame. And while Selick was originally set to collaborate with Anderson on 2009’s Fantastic Mr. Fox before settling with Coraline, Anderson’s first animated directorial outing makes it seem as if he’s been doing this for years.

It’s impossible to know where to begin with a product of such a meticulous delicacy of images and sounds. You could be just as likely to begin with Anderson and Noah Baumbach’s endlessly charming screenplay as you would with the swinging soundtrack that ranges from The Rolling Stones to Alexandre Desplat’s gorgeous, bittersweet original score. Between the whimsy of Roald Dahl and the symmetry-laden articulation of Anderson, the film is a sensory match made in heaven, awash in a beautiful autumn mood that helps cement it as the go-to Wes Anderson picture for this gloomy writer.

Penny Folger, Writing Team Member

The Royal Tenenbaums (2001):

The movie that felt like it really put Wes Anderson’s now-signature visual style (mind-blowing production design and meticulous attention to detail) on the map, shuttled Gene Hackman peacefully towards retirement, made the late Elliott Smith’s Needle in the Hay iconic, and even made Gwyneth Paltrow cool. Its dry humor and Paltrow’s character in particular feel like an Edward Gorey drawing come to life. Its entire soundtrack is also now iconic: Paul Simon’s “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard,” The Ramones’ “Judy Is a Punk,” Nico’s “These Days,” the recontextualizing of the Charlie Brown Christmas theme and Mark Mothersbaugh’s entire score. The introduction of this film to the commercial cinematic landscape felt like something new and different for mainstream American audiences at its time of release much the same way Pulp Fiction did, though paradoxically both are making nods towards other eras and perhaps at times other films.

“Iconic” seems to be the biggest word that comes to mind when thinking about this movie twenty-two years after its release: I know several people, myself included, who’ve been characters from it for Halloween, my niece named her cat “Margot,” and I once saw a live performance in Central Park of a scene between Royal and Etheline that looped as they walked in circles. The movie’s visual gag of a large painting of masked shirtless men on motorcycles with their arms raised hanging on the wall above Eli while a painting of the same men leaning over an overturned shirtless man as it hangs above Richie and we humorously quick cut between them as the characters misunderstand each other lead the viewer to initially wonder, “Is this intentional?” Like all of Wes Anderson’s work seemingly, the answer is yes. Yes, it is.

Jen Schildge, Writing Team Member

Isle of Dogs (2018):

Isle of Dogs is a love letter to dogs, except it’s not a love letter. On the outside, it’s an immersive movie where the canine pets of the fictional city of Megasaki, Japan are exiled to a floating garbage dump called Trash Island because of an outbreak of canine flu. Then, a little 12-year-old boy comes flying on to the island to try save his little best friend, Spots. Honestly, Isle of Dogs is one of Anderson’s most messy films. I don’t mean messy in a bad way, not like a crazy ex drama type mess. I mean a mess that’s fun to look at. A mess that, when looked at, shows vulnerability and embraces imperfections.

It’s got that certain feeling you get when you have a strong relationship with a pet, with a friend.  But it also has that feeling you get when you’re fighting for something you believe in so strongly. Mix both of those things in a bowl, add a sprinkle of government rebellion and amazing characters with little depth, and you’ve got the Isle of Dogs recipe. I loved my childhood dog, and I’ll love every dog after him. So yes, this movie makes me, a 23-year-old only child, relate to this 12-year-old lonely boy who cares so deeply for his pet. Plus, Greta Gerwig voices an exchange student who speaks minimal Japanese!

Anthony McKelroy, Writing Team Member

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004):

The old man and the sea. Despite being his fourth feature film, Wes Anderson’s cold and summery The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou persists as a showcase of many “firsts” for the filmmaker. It would be his first time working with now beloved collaborators Waris Ahluwalia, Jeff Goldblum, Willem Dafoe, and Barbie co-screenwriter Noah Baumbach; his first time commanding a production budget of $50-million dollars; and it would become the first work of Anderson’s to be cited in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

“It’s part of the deal that if you describe a new species, you get to give it a scientific name,” wrote taxonomist Dr. Douglas J. Long in 2013. “[…] But where the rules of scientific names are loose, the creation of common names is much more strict. The American Fisheries Society has a handbook of rules for assigning common names, and points out many examples of inappropriate ways common names can be applied to a species […] But clause #11 of the rules states: ‘Colorful, romantic, fanciful, metaphorical, and otherwise distinctive and original names are especially appropriate. Such terminology adds to the richness and breadth of the nomenclature and yields a harvest of satisfaction for the user.’  Bingo. I had it.

First observed around the fertile waters of the Galapagos Islands in 1995 and 1998, an unidentified breed of spotted catshark was collected by researchers from the California Academy of Sciences. Their Zissouian deep-sea expeditions were filmed as part of a Discovery Channel documentary called Galapagos: Beyond Darwin, which plays as a more sobering facsimile of The Life Aquatic itself. “Our new shark was dark, but with scattered light blotches. It reminded me of the scene in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou where the elusive and deadly Jaguar Shark swam by Team Zissou’s submersible, un-illuminated, and you could see the dark body with the light spots as it swam by the observation windows.”

Art imitating life imitating sharks. Underwater TV edu-tainment as poetry. Vibrant hues of green and cerulean forming a watercolor seascape of discovery that concludes with its characters looking up to the stars in patient wonder. By reveling in the artifice of The Life Aquatic’s hybrid documentary form, Anderson would set a terra firma template that would be explored to even deeper effect in the extra-terrestrial Asteroid City.

Liam Kilby, Writing Team Member

Moonrise Kingdom (2012):

As a child, the fantasy, absurdity, and ability to create your environment as special as you may want is something so critical to childhood. Although, as we grow up, that fantasy tends to fade out, and we believe “reality” kicks in. Moonrise Kingdom is a special movie that allows us all as viewers to escape into a world that we once were able to actualize but now largely believe can only be felt vicariously through movies, media, and other passageways for us to connect to that childlike feeling of speculation.

There is a fun juxtaposition in Moonrise Kingdom where much of the dialogue between the children, especially between Sam and Suzy, is conveyed in a much more profound way in comparison to the adult cast, which acts in a much more boisterous manner. This could serve two purposes, allowing the audience to travel to that magical time in childhood as well as allowing us all to see the nonsensicality even in adulthood. Moonrise Kingdom has always had a special place in my heart because, intentional or not, I feel something is to be said in this movie on the supposed “loss” of that childhood wonder and how we all can reach to find that daydreaming we all need in our lives.


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