The fifth film by oddball director Wes Anderson – he of The Royal Tenenbaums and The Life Aquatic fame – was always going to be much anticipated. Anderson’s films have a wonderful tendency to be both decidedly quirky and gloriously affecting comic character studies quite unlike anything being churned out by anyone else in the Hollywood mainstream.
But this film in particular is bound to generate more than the usual amount of interest, coming out as it does just a couple of months after Anderson regular and star of this latest outing, Owen Wilson, made a high-profile suicide bid, following the break-up of his relationship with his You, Me and Dupree co-star Kate Hudson.
Wilson has, in the last few years, easily secured himself a spot as one of the most distinctive and likable comic actors working in the American film industry today. His gloriously laid-back Texas drawl combined with a distinctively relaxed yet stylised acting manner has given him a true star quality not often found these days.
Just like the A-listers of the Golden Age of the Studio System – the Cary Grants and the Jimmy Stewarts, John Waynes and Clark Gables – Wilson is always the same in every film in which he appears, and it is this persona which keeps drawing the crowds. Be it as the overly rich love rival in Meet the Parents or the conscience-stricken lothario of The Wedding Crashers, the cowboy bandit with a conscience in Shanghai Noon or the egotistical male model in Zoolander, Wilson has an ability to upstage all but the most determined of his co-stars without ever giving the impression of really trying.
With his current personal problems having been covered extensively in the press, attention on Wilson’s performance in this latest outing is guaranteed to be more intense than ever. And yet – as demonstrated in The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic and Bottle Rocket – when it comes to Wes Anderson movies, Wilson always appears to slip into a far more supporting role than his other bigger-budget outings. His performances in his previous Anderson outings were where he perfected his slacker persona, with subtlety of expression the name of the game.
Here again, despite having one of the main roles, he allows his character – one of a trio of American brothers on a spiritual journey to India to rebuild their family ties – to gently slip into playing second fiddle to Oscar-winner Adrien Brody, just as he selflessly let Bill Murray dominate in The Life Aquatic. The result is far more satisfying than any jostling for screentime between two big talents would be, and lets Wilson shine far more than he would if he were to be more obviously the main character – which is perhaps why he keeps on taking such parts.
This being an Anderson film, the general plot of a family trying to reconnect revives the similar themes of his last two cult hits, and once again eschews or subverts all the obvious family drama clichés with a perfectly-pitched weirdness. Anderson’s movies are not to everyone’s taste, it’s true – pitched as comedies, they often have more than their fair share of pathos and depression running throughout. But, at the same time, if you’ve ever enjoyed a cinematic character study, his films are not to be missed. Let’s just hope that Wilson manages to rebuild his life sufficiently to star in many more to come, for he has become an essential ingredient of the Anderson mix.