It's Movie Time
9:56 am
Thu December 23, 2004

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

The entire dysfunctional family of adventurers is pure Anderson.

Bill Murray plays the most eccentric character this year, Steve Zissou, even out arching the real Howard Hughes (Aviator's Leo DiCaprio) in Wes Anderson's The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. Steve is a washed up Jacques Cousteau determined to find the "Jaguar" shark that has eaten his best friend, Esteban. The name may come from Gabriel Garcia Marquez's short story, "The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World," in which a washed up corpse named Esteban sparks the imagination of a small town. In director Anderson's story, Esteban's death compels Steve to go for revenge, a transforming action that brings him to his putative son and self-realization.

Of course all of this is layered over with Anderson's quirky, dry sense of humor, better displayed before in Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, and Royal Tenenbaums. Even Owen Wilson, his often co-writer (but not here), is present to carry on the wit. Murray fits the arid humor perfectly, doing a comic extension of his minimalist character in Lost in Translation. In this case, he underplays too much with a lethargy that gives the film a slower pace than is necessary. But the entire dysfunctional family of adventurers is pure Anderson, just a sea away from the way out Tenenbaums, who don't function any better.

The Mediterranean is stunning: colorful and inviting for a swim all of those sweating from the dry wit. Their "Calypso" is a cutout WWII scow with people moving from room to room like the characters from Bye Bye Birdie. Their little yellow submarine is so Beatles you expect to hear the fab four on the sound track, although a black guitarist playing David Bowie in Portuguese is out there far enough.

The emergence of pirates cranks up the eccentricity as well as Zissou's heroism, not much like the great swashbucklers of film history, but then that's the ironic point Anderson seems to make: Nothing is as you thought it would be; all of life is a series of failed efforts nonetheless hilarious in the recounting.