Wes Anderson is Hollywood’s favourite hipster. He is, perhaps, the only unconventionally stylistic director of this century to be accepted into the mainstream and not yet be corrupted by it. From his humble beginnings with Owen Wilson on Bottle Rocket, to Oscar nominations for The Grand Budapest Hotel, Wes Anderson’s films have always remained true to his distinctive vision.
Wes Anderson is cinematic marmite; audiences either adore him or detest him. The former might say he is a modern day auteur and a 21st century cinematic visionary. While the latter find his films profoundly boring or unsettling.
For those who do not know Anderson, he is exactly as you would imagine: long floppy hair and brown corduroy suits. The character of Mr. Fox in Fantastic Mr. Fox was modeled on him. The Texas born filmmaker feels more at home in Paris or New York, with the most artistic and intellectual of socialites.
His films are part cinema, part children’s colouring books, with crude block colours, symmetrical shots and a deliberate lack of camera depth. His style is so distinctive that there’s an Instagram account called Accidentally Wes Anderson full of photos of places that look like they belong in an Anderson film.
His plot are usually capers – disappearances, thefts and great escapes. The tone of Anderson’s films is much like a rollercoaster: fast paced comedies with sharp melancholic moments. One moment characters are fighting with each other in an exaggerated slapstick style, the next there’s a suicide attempt.
Anderson deliberately always works with the same actors. His troupe of frequent collaborators includes Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Ed Norton, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand and the Wilson brothers. It’s almost as though as soon as a new Wes Anderson project goes into production, someone clicks their fingers and shouts, “Round up the usual suspects.”
The question is, if Anderson always casts the same gang of well-to-do weirdos and remains painstakingly true to his style, how has he managed to make eight different films? Many would argue that he hasn’t. Instead, Anderson supplants the tale of an estranged father son relationship into a new foreign location, whether it be New York (The Royal Tenenbaums), India (The Darjeeling Limited) or Eastern Europe (The Grand Budapest Hotel). He tales the same story of a flawed, but charismatic and redeemable man. Women are rarely more than motivation and prizes for the male leads, and non-white characters are rarely more than ‘the help’.
But Wes Anderson is a straight, white, privileged man. How can we expect him to tell a different story? Why are his films so often reprimanded for being too ‘Wes Anderson’?
Anderson’s newest film Isle of Dogs might see a departure from this signature tropes. The stop-motion film will follow a young Japanese boy on his search for his dog who has been quarantined on an island due to an outbreak of canine flu.
But why are critics so excited to see Anderson make something different from his inherent style? Perhaps they are frustrated that Anderson refuses to be anything less than completely true to himself, and the ‘Wes Anderson’ brand he has become. It’s evident that Anderson is a passionate and dedicated filmmaker, and though some elements of his films may be recycled, his true fans have yet to become tired of what makes Wes Anderson Wes Anderson. His latest film Isle of Dogs will be in Irish cinemas on March 30th.
Muireann O’Shea – Film Editor