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Reel to Real: Wes Anderson, hipster director

15 February 2012 By Eva Niessner, Columnist No Comments

Having arrived close to a decade late to the party, I finally got around to watching “The Royal Tenenbaums.” I was absolutely enchanted.

Wes Anderson makes distinct, compelling, funny movies that always have a moment midway through where you find yourself crying before things become OK again. Sometimes I feel like the movie world is a high school.

Quentin Tarantino is the bully, Michael Bay is the dumb jock and M. Night Shyamalan is the weird kid sitting in the back of the class talking to people only he can see. In this imaginary high school, Anderson would be the hipster. The music, the clothes, the casting, everything he puts into his movies creates an atmosphere that’s so hip and interesting that it feels unreal. Yet somehow it’s easy to relate to. I never lived the life of a wealthy and famous child prodigy or took a train ride across India, but I do have brothers, and the families that Anderson creates are uncanny. I can see elements of my own family in his movies, more distinctly than with any other director.

The family members in his movies are desperate to convince each other that even though they do things that hurt each other, it’s out of personal interest, not malice or lack of love. Anderson has a subtle sense of humor. I once said that you’ll never laugh out loud at “The Darjeeling Limited,” but you’ll smirk all the way through. Sight gags only rarely interest him (like Owen Wilson in war paint crashing his car into a house), and usually it’ll be offhand comments or blank stares that come across as funny instead.

You’ll also find a lot of the same faces in his movies, Bill Murray especially. Even if there isn’t a role for Murray, like in “Darjeeling,” Anderson makes one, which can feel sort of forced at times (he has only a few lines in that movie and his character serves no purpose).

But whomever Anderson keeps on hand for casting is a wise man or woman, always choosing people who can walk the line between ridiculous and powerful.

My first introduction to Anderson was “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” which morphs the classic Ronald Dahl story about a heroic fox to a recognizably Anderson-esque quirky family drama without losing the important elements of the original.

It’s a good place for the interested viewer to start, since it’s a little more traditionally funny and a little safer than some of the darker movies, which often deal with death, suicide and estrangement.

It might sound strange to say movies with those kinds of things in it can be funny, but that’s Anderson’s forte: making the unbelievable work.


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