The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)
Unlike most critics, I found Wes Anderson's former movie, The Royal Tenenbaums to be over-the-top (deliberate some would say, but you can overhit that as well) and poorly focused. Most of all, it simply wasn't among the funniest comedies I had seen. The major difference between that movie and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, is that the latter has an approach to comedy that is rarely used in film - at least in American film: This is a film whose aim is to be amusing, not uproarious funny. Boring, some might say. To me, a blessing. There are too many comedies that in pursuit of laughter end up nothing more than stressful and hectic. Life Aquatic is very well paced, and doesn't even care if you laugh or not, as long as it amuses you.
And amusing, this is - in a distinctive low-key kind of way. Anderson's style has many aspects to it. One of them is his visual creativity, which has never been more at place than here - among ill-proportioned ships, over-coloured fish and exoticized settings. The film's appearance suggests an extroverted retro style that I predict we'll see more of in the years to come. It befits the nature of this story perfectly.
Then there are of course the quirky characters and situations. Bill Murray heads the pack with a wonderful performance. Not in-your-face, not over-the-top, just delightfully idiosyncratic. What's liberating is that these characters are basically quite ordinary people, albeit with some fairly characteristic spice. Some (Zissou, Klaus, Hennesy) are better written than others (Ned), but they all complement each other well and work as a brilliant showcase for the actors - in particular Murray, Dafoe and Goldblum who all deliver some of their finest comedic work.
If you note and get something out of peculiarities such as David Bowie songs sung (fairly averagely) in Portuguese, or simple linguistic misunderstandings between Klaus and Steve, you might just find The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou a real treat. There's nothing wrong with the creativity and determination of Wes Anderson's filmmaking. He's not afraid of taking a long shot or two, and in this film his accuracy rate is impressively high.