There are artists you spend years drifting away from. Wes Anderson is one of mine. The auteur filmmaker held me transfixed with his first three movies — Bottle Rocket, Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums — all matching slightly unreal but well-toned visuals with characters and plots that bounced between the sweet and prickly.
Then came the more aggressively twee The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, followed by The Darjeeling Limited, a very bad movie I’m still mad about sitting through, not least because it takes place in India and is entirely about three white dudes played by Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman and Adrien Brody. Whew, lads.
It didn’t fully occur to me, though, until I tried to watch Moonrise Kingdom (I lasted approximately 30 minutes) that Anderson’s aesthetic is a lot about reinforcing a gilded white bourgeois sensibility, even when he’s basically making fun of it. His fussy concern with the dollhouse frippery of his worlds delivers settings as dead cold as they are soft pink; I imagine if he were a woman he’d be dismissed as a mere confectioner with uncomfortably aristocrat-forward tastes. And it sure looks as if his forthcoming picture, The French Dispatch, continues the dire trend.
All other criticisms aside, you know there’s something wrong when a director’s output threatens to make you sick of Bill Murray. But Anderson, when he’s not using another culture as a backdrop for a stop-motion feature about dogs — and I remind you, sir, you are American, from Texas, no less! — has settled into an extended universe as rigid as Marvel’s, with the same faces, colors, tempos and angles carrying him on through his career. It’s a schtick so severe, you won’t need to see his name at the end of a trailer for The French Dispatch to know he made it. Call it the Woody Allen-ification of Wes. For various reasons, not a good artistic trajectory.
I’m willing to accept my share of the blame for this fossilized shit, as I was there to hype his J.D. Salinger-biting stuff a couple decades ago. My bad, everyone. Let’s just pretend this new movie doesn’t exist, and maybe he’ll finally try something new.