The Life Aquatic is Wes Anderson’s underappreciated oceanic epic – one that follows a team of explorers known only as Team Zissou helmed by the titular Steve himself. When a fabled “jaguar shark” voraciously consumes a long-time colleague and close friend, Mr. Zissou vows to exact revenge. Continuing with the latest entry into their ongoing series of documentary films, the team sets out on a new sojourn full of whimsy, financial woes and innumerable other mishaps that’s benchmarked by Anderson’s distinct aesthetic and mood-blending tendencies.
What I noticed right off the bat was that The Life Aquatic possesses a sort of higher grade of eccentricity not altogether present in Anderson’s earlier work. While some critics have deemed such eccentricity as “smug,” I must respectfully disagree, as it’s this eccentricity that makes the film as enjoyable as it is. To elaborate, some scenes are, for a lack of a better term, just plain whimsical in regards to Anderson’s direction and the incorporation of (extraordinarily) artificial oceanic creatures and seascapes. It’s these elements that help the film achieve the brilliant visual quality I hold it accountable for, as well as the fantastic sense of unpredictability present throughout.
Visuals aside, the film is just plain hilarious; probably Anderson’s funniest in my opinion, and Bill Murray is absolutely fantastic in his best role (again, just my opinion) since Lost in Translation. The supporting cast doesn’t cease to impress either, with Anjelica Huston, Cate Blanchett, Owen Wilson, and even Willem Dafoe as Team Zissou’s childish German deckhand all giving top-notch performances. Hell, I even found Jeff Goldblum to be hysterical despite his prolonged periods of absence.
In terms of what could essentially drag the film down in quality, I’d say the only problem here lies within the sometimes incoherent plot. Granted, the goals of Team Zissou are clear, but with an almost 2-hour runtime, certain plot elements are thrown in for good measure in order to help flesh out the stories surrounding the characters and so forth. Do these elements necessarily work? Not always, and you’ll probably be able to tell when and why they don’t. However, they do manage to provide a somewhat interesting insight into their lives, no matter how idiosyncratic.
All in all, The Life Aquatic is a truly enchanting experience. It’s both funny and touching, with great performances to help in these respects and a surreal visual quality that’s somewhat uncharacteristic even for Anderson, but thoroughly entertaining nonetheless. Sure, people have called it smug and the like, but if it wasn’t, how would it be able to maintain the sense of the uniqueness that makes it as good as it is? On an end note, The Life Aquatic is assuredly not for everyone, but if you’re a fan of both Bill Murray and Anderson’s earlier body of work, you won’t be disappointed; just be wary of a longer-than-usual runtime.