Is Wes Anderson corroding the cinema?

Posted by · 9:24 am · May 21st, 2009

Rachel Weisz in The Brothers BloomI should say at the top that I have not yet seen Rian Johnson’s “The Brothers Bloom,” but I was an absolute disciple of the director’s 2005 debut “Brick.”  That said, “Bloom” has always had a particular sheen to it that has obviously kept it from being a must-see since the first screenings began back in September of 2008.  Elbert Ventura, writing in Slate, may have pegged the reasoning, at least as it pertains to my taste:

Rian Johnson’s caper comedy The Brothers Bloom begins its nationwide rollout already burdened with a reputation as an imitation of an American original. If Johnson’s terrific debut, Brick, crackled with the borrowed brio of the Coen brothers, early notices for The Brothers Bloom have identified a new muse: Wes Anderson…

But The Brothers Bloom is only the latest addition to a burgeoning subgenre. Over the last few years, Anderson’s movies have become touchstones for indie culture. In the 1990s, it seemed every NYU graduate and Sundance contender was making his own Tarantino knockoff. These days, the Tarantino imitators have been replaced by the Wes wannabes. A popular strain in recent American indie cinema has been the Andersonian quirkfest, a tendency that runs through movies like Juno, Napoleon Dynamite, Son of Rambow, Charlie Bartlett, and Garden State, among others.

The appropriation doesn’t stop there. Anderson’s trademarks—poker-face eccentricity, affection for the oddball, fastidiously arranged clutter, an affinity for the precocious and childlike—have now become conventions in the larger culture. You can glimpse his style and sensibility in TV shows, music videos and—a true sign that you’ve arrived—commercials.

Of course, I like one or two of those films, but as someone who considers nearly the whole of Wes Anderson’s portfolio to be incredibly disposable, and as a guy from the film school generation Ventura indicates (and therefore, witnessed the development of this new “wannabe” culture), allow me to simply say: God help us. I won’t pass judgment on “The Brothers Bloom” until I see it, of course, but items like this make it difficult to drum up enthusiasm.

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17 responses so far

  • 1 5-21-2009 at 9:51 am

    Matthew said...

    There are a tonne of Wes Anderson imitators out there, and as a massive fan of Anderson, I’d like it to stop. I love Wes Anderson’s films, but have found the imitators to be… well, imitators.

    Of course, I am excited for The Brothers Bloom, mostly because of the actors and Johnson’s first film.

  • 2 5-21-2009 at 9:56 am

    Cameron said...

    What exactly about Anderson’s films doesn’t appeal to you, Kris?

  • 3 5-21-2009 at 10:09 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Cameron: By and large, I don’t feel like they mean anything. I really enjoyed Bottle Rocket and I had some level of respect for Rushmore. Everything else, I feel, has tried too hard for results that remained elusive.

  • 4 5-21-2009 at 10:11 am

    Brian said...

    People that compare Bloom to an Anderson movie are people that engage with Anderson movies strictly through trailers, and Bloom likewise. It’s a really aggravating comparison, and shows a pretty keen lack of film history knowledge on the side of those making the arguments. The images in Bloom are composed much differently than in Anderson’s, it’s characters much more loving and caring and selfless than any Anderson film (save perhaps Darjeeling), and it’s plot more intricately woven than any Anderson film (not that his films are even attempting the narrative hijinks of Bloom). Bloom additionally is mostly musically dependent (save a well placed Dylan song) on the genius of Nathan Johnson, providing my favorite score of the year so far. I’d argue that many of the “Anderson trademarks” have been trademarks of other, older directors and films for years.

    I love Anderson’s films, and I love Johnson’s films, but I think comparing the two is one of the laziest film criticisms going right now.

  • 5 5-21-2009 at 10:17 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    “Brothers Bloom” doesn’t really have many narrative commonalities with Anderson’s work — it’s more intricately plotted, for starters — but it does share Anderson’s visual and tonal preciousness. That may be coincidental, but it’s not an invalid comparison.

    Anyway, if you buy the similarity, then “The Brothers Bloom” is the best Wes Anderson film since “Rushmore.” That doesn’t make it great, but I found it more immediately engaging than any of Anderson’s recent work.

  • 6 5-21-2009 at 10:45 am

    drbenway said...

    “By and large, I don’t feel like they mean anything.”

    Do they need to? I’ve always thought of them as rather light films, and I love them for that. They’re hilarious (in my opinion, of course), nice to look at, filled with cool, charming actors portraying characters I wish were my neighbours. I’m not sure Anderson has ever laid any claim to profundity–excluding, perhaps, the jaguar shark climax in Life Aquatic, which, I’ll admit, never sat well with me: I’d definitely give you that one as a moment of faux-insight.

  • 7 5-21-2009 at 10:49 am

    step said...

    I have seen the Brothers Bloom, and I can honestly say that it didn’t strike me as Wes Anderson-esque in the least. I think that people making that comparison are doing so on a superficial basis only, and aren’t really watching the film for what it is. And what it is, is great.

  • 8 5-21-2009 at 11:19 am

    Chad Hartigan said...

    Whether they have anything to do with Anderson or not “Juno, Napoleon Dynamite, Son of Rambow, Charlie Bartlett, and Garden State” is a wretched slate of films to be sure. I hate that breed of cinema.

  • 9 5-21-2009 at 11:59 am

    aaron said...

    just once, i would love to see a child in a wes anderson movie eat paste. at this rate, his next film will feature nine-year-olds discussing the intertextuality of bolano’s 2666. am i the only one who thinks rushmore is dreadful? i’m not trying to poke anyone in the eye w/ a stick here, but every time i watch it, i just come away wanting to pop in ferrara’s king of new york to wash the twee taste out of my mouth.

    haven’t seen the brothers bloom, so i can’t comment, but the indie-twee movement is ripe for excoriation. oh, and “mumblecore” sucks.

  • 10 5-21-2009 at 12:40 pm

    Chad Hartigan said...

    I feel like good mumblecore is pretty anti-twee.

  • 11 5-21-2009 at 2:12 pm

    AdamL said...

    Garden State is nothing like a Wes Anderson film.

    And Kris is right in saying Anderson’s films are entirely disposable.

  • 12 5-21-2009 at 2:25 pm

    Bryan said...

    I’ve only seen The Life Aquatic; I never laughed, and thought, “This is some really great acting, I just wish all these characters weren’t in the same movie.”

    Anyway, I’ll see The Brothers Bloom for Rachel Weisz, regardless.

  • 13 5-21-2009 at 3:51 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    “Do they need to?”

    When they parade as if they do? Yes.

  • 14 5-21-2009 at 4:33 pm

    Bill said...

    I agree with Kris. Everything means something.

  • 15 5-21-2009 at 4:34 pm

    Bill said...

    Art for art’s sake is an empty phrase. Art for the sake of truth, art for the sake of the good and the beautiful that is the faith I am searching for.

    – George Sand

  • 16 5-21-2009 at 6:37 pm

    The InSneider said...

    I LOVE Wes Anderson’s films. Rushmore. Royal Tenenbaums. Darjeeling Limited. All fantastic. There were only 2 moments in Brothers Bloom where it felt like I was watching a Wes Anderson movie. The opening prologue with Ricky Jay narrating. And the montage of Penelope’s hobbies. Mayyybe the title cards too. But otherwise, nothing in the film reminded me of Wes’ work because it was so far inferior. And RE: Brian — Bloom’s characters are much more loving and caring? That is the dumbest thing I’ve read all week. Adrien and Mark’s relationship in the film isn’t a pimple on the ass as the sibling relationships in Bottle Rocket, Royal Tenenbaums or Darjeeling. Brody is so much better in Darjeeling than Bloom that it’s a wonder Johnson even bothered to cast him. Johnson is a fucking fad. He won’t be making movies in 10 years. Because he sucks now.

  • 17 5-22-2009 at 9:34 am

    Average Joe said...

    Personally, I think Wes Anderson is a cinematic treasure. Some people believe he’s disappearing farther and farther into his own world, but it’s a world I look forward to visiting every time he chooses to let me do so, which is the same way I feel about Fellini. It’s not Anderson’s fault that his imitators are so inferior, or that so many choose to imitate him.

    And The Royal Tenenbaums is perfection. I’m surprised that, by and large, most people think Rushmore is his best film. Not that Rushmore isn’t a masterpiece, but I would think that there would be a more even split on what people believe is his best film. Also, no one besides Scorsese combines images and music as well as Anderson.