June 17, 2012

"Moonrise Kingdom"

I finally saw a Wes Anderson movie with an audience, and I was rather surprised to find that about half the crowd found Moonrise Kingdom consistently funny, which has just left me more puzzled than before. I had made my peace with the idea that while Wes Anderson movies (e.g., RushmoreThe Royal TennenbaumsThe Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou -- not to be confused with Paul Thomas Anderson movies like Punch-Drunk Love and There Will Be Blood) look like they are going to be funny, that the reason they aren't funny is because that's the director's plan, that while I don't know what he's trying to do, it must be something far more ethereal than humor. But now I find that half the people who go to Wes Anderson movies think they are hilarious, so I don't know what to think. Are his movies actually as funny as they seem like they would be and I just don't get the joke because of some deficiency in my personality? Or is humor really that hard? Or is Anderson some kind of genius at being not funny?

 Granted, if I worked hard in writing about Moonrise Kingdom, I could make this intensely whimsical story about an adolescent boy and girl who run away together on a summer vacation island in Rhode Island in 1965, using his expert Boy Scout skills to elude search parties, sound funny. 

On paper, for example, the casting is hilarious. The two saddest men in show business, Bill Murray and Bruce Willis, compete for the heart of the girl's mother, Frances McDormand. (The screenplay is co-written by Anderson and Roman Coppola, whose sister Sofia directed Murray in "Lost in Translation" as a depressed action movie star, presumably based on Willis [here's my review of "Lost in Translation"], so it's particularly amusing to see them cast together. Or at least in theory it's amusing. On screen, it's just kind of sad.) 

The stylish social worker who swoops in by sea plane to take the boy off for electroshock therapy is played by the aristocratic white witch of Narnia, Tilda Swinton, daughter of "Major-General Sir John Swinton, KCVO, OBE, DL, Lord Lieutenant of Berwickshire." How much did they pay social workers in Rhode Island in 1965, anyway?

The usual response is that humor is just a personal thing, that either it strikes you as funny or not and there's nothing you can do about it. Actually, though, I don't find that true. Over the years, I've put a lot of effort into teaching myself to get jokes, that if lots of other people find something to be funny, it probably is if you think about it right. I find this good for the soul. This exercise also has the side effect that things that aren't supposed to be funny, like most newspaper articles, start sounding hilarious. Just put the ellipses in the right places and they turn into self-parody.

But Wes Anderson still defeats my best efforts.


Anonymous said...

Wes Anderson's flicks are basically wish-fulfillment fantasies for spergies. In almost all his movies, the protagonist is an awkward nerd with a grating personality who is nonetheless loved by a suprisingly large number of very loyal friends no matter how much he fucks up or craps on everyone around him. Take that fundamental premise, add heaping dollops of quirk and whimsy, and VOILA! you've got a Wes Anderson film.

Ray Midge said...

Saw it this weekend myself. What I was most struck by is how removed from human emotions and how art-direction-stylized and mannered his movies have become.

All those leanings were there in his great movie, Rushmore, and his good movie, Bottle Rocket... but those actually took place in the real world (or at least very almost real with Rushmore). The characters were real. Max was a real person with real emotions. Everyone in "Bottle Rocket" was a real person who might react to things in a human fashion. Sure, Dignan was off, but his "off-ness" wasn't the sensibility of the whole universe presented to us. Now in Anderson's movies, there's nothing else.

Look, I loved the "Fantastic Mr. Fox." The Anderson-universe can work with stop motion claymation creations in a 70's tinged universe where animals wear business suits. But setting real people in that universe and having them all act in like cartoons is ultimately empty. I really wanted to love "Moonrise," but it just left me cold.

As far as funny, there was some funny in it - the Schwartzman character was good. But mostly it was the 70ish-stagey-art-esthetic and the earnestness of the characters against that that was supposed to be funny. There's some humor in it, I guess. But it comes at the expense of any other emotion. I hope he writes something with something close to people in it again.

SirBasil said...

I think most of the appeal of Wes Anderson films comes from the fact that they are meticulously designed and pretty to watch. In essence, they are just the internal dialogue of the director playing with real life dolls in his big dioramas.

Anonymous said...

You're right. They're not funny. And lots of people think this way. Anderson's shtick is lame and not funny. He tries so hard to be quirky.

The people who think Anderson's stuff is funny think that thinking his stuff is funny is cool. And they're just trying to be cool.

Anonymous said...

I've only seen one of his movies, Rushmore. The ads for it led me to believe that it would be funny, but it wasn't - Steve, you're not alone in noticing this. The overall cuteness seemed laboriously contrived, almost phony. The cuteness of the British actress who played Jason Schwartzman's teacher, however, was very real. I've recently learned that she had married a black guy named Rashan, who, according to his Wikipedia page, "never knew who his father was." They've had 2 children together.

Back to the movie: it was as if my mom or a friend who isn't like me in any way at all had spent a lot of effort picking out a present for me that they thought I'd like, based on what they think my personality is like. Stuff like that is invariably disappointing.

Anonymous said...

The NYT review of Rushmore way back when had one of the snarkiest comments ever -


- "And since Ms. Williams's only other theatrical film credit is appearing opposite Kevin Costner in ''The Postman,'' this amounts to her feature debut."

Whiskey said...

Most comedies today are not funny because they are handcuffed by PC. No "Long Duck Dong" from Sixteen Candles. No Dennis Haysbert in "Major League" (he was hilarious). Heck no Wesley Snipes in "Major League" (Willie Mays Hayes).

Chevy Chase has said it is because of budgets though, arguing that jokes need to be rewritten on set because something that seems funny on paper and table reads can really blow once on film; and needs punching up or significant alteration.

If I want to see Bill Murray, I want to see him fighting ghosts with Dan Ackroyd and Harold Ramis (who is what Wes Anderson wants to be, and isn't).

Nanonymous said...

Murray in "Lost in Translation" as a depressed action movie star, presumably based on Willis

This was much discussed following the movie release and a general consensus, I believe, was that the character is based on Harrison Ford.

Nanonymous said...

Probably tells more about me than about Wes Anderson but I liked Rushmore, loved The Royal Tennenbaums and, after several attempts, couldn't finish neither The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou nor The Darjeeling Limited. It's as if the director decided to test just how much bullshit his audience can take. (A lot, if IMDB scores are to be believed).

DaveinHackensack said...

I've laughed occasionally during Wes Anderson movies, but most his work isn't laugh-out-loud funny; it invokes mild bemusement instead (e.g., the 375th Street Y in The Royal Tennenbaums).

Anonymous said...

Have you seen The Squid and the Whale? (Baumbach is Anderson-adjacent)

I find it intensely funny and some of my friends absolutely hate the movie.

On the other hand, Baumbach's follow-up, Margot at the Wedding, had all of the bitterness with a lot less humor. Maybe it's just funnier to watch Jeff Daniels play a self-centered, condescending asshole than it is to watch Nicole Kidman play a self-centered, condescending bitch.

Allison said...

I agree with Ray. Rushmore was a great movie, and Max was real. All of those characters were people whose feeling I cold identify with, and even like and adore. If was funny but also sweet and endearing. It was everything about how I remember youth feeling. Bottle Rocket I liked because that movie captured the troupe of young men I hung out with in college exactly. Again, exactly like my misspent youth.

Royal Tennenbaums was hilarious, but not endearing. It was funny because it was so contrived to be absurd, and it was not taking itself too seriously in its stylized-ness. that said, not many agreed with me on that it seemed. My friend and I were the only two people who thought it was laugh-out-loud funny when he slit his wrists. Not a real emotion to be found.

But Life Aquatic left me bored. the others were dull, too-the train one also missed the mark.

Anonymous said...

"The overall cuteness seemed laboriously contrived, almost phony"

But he's now done it enough times that it's an "aesthetic." People have to come to expect it from Anderson and it no longer seems merely contrived or some kind of mistake (who knows with a low budget debut?). I think that's one reason MK has received much better reviews than I anticipated. Wes Anderson took some heat about his fey style and he doubled down.

Steve Sailer said...

"I believe, was that the character is based on Harrison Ford."

Well, then, I managed to blunder my way into getting a laugh out of "Moonrise Kingdom."

Grumpy Old Man said...

My daughter and I loved this movie. It's not belly-laugh funny. It's quirky-whimsical funny. Coen Brothers funny. And also poignant, if you suspend disbelief in some of the oddments (boy scout camp open in Oct. in what appears to be Maine).

If you don't get it, of course, you're hopelessly square.. . (Oh, wait . . . )

Anonymous said...


agnostic said...

I only saw Rushmore, and it wasn't funny. That was when I really wanted to believe too, as an outside-the-mainstream teenager.

The Big Lebowski, released the same year, had me coming back to the theater 2 or 3 times after the first. That was genuinely funny, *and* it was OK for our group to cheer for.

However, that was a fluke movie. Most of the movies about QUIRKY CHARACTERS (TM) from the '90s and 2000s were just barf-o-rama. All of Kevin Smith's movies, the Coen Brothers movies except Big Lebowski (Fargo was watchable, but not enjoyable), Superbad, Ghost World, bla bla bla. Garbage city.

I emphasize that I really wanted to get into that stuff because that's what the non-conformist teenage crowd was into, but I just couldn't keep it down. Before long I had ditched Nirvana and the Offspring for Camper Van Beethoven and the Ramones, and began renting Heathers instead of Reality Bites.

I wasn't consciously retro at that point, since it wasn't clear that the trend toward kitsch and snark would keep going for so long. Now it's so bad, why even bother giving the new QUIRKY CHARACTERS (TM) movies a chance?

There are so many awesome movies with off-beat characters that I never saw growing up, and have thankfully gotten around to over the past 10 years -- Network, Videodrome, Body Double, etc.

The later '70s and '80s did everything better, even the genres and styles that have currently been enjoying a heyday, like the off-the-wall character movies.

Orthodox said...

When I watch his movies, I have this sense that a grand comedy is unfolding and I want to laugh uproariously to release the tension, but he never delivers. The whole time I'm thinking, OK, here comes the funny part, but the funniest bits are just small pieces. I can remember Bill Murray stuffing little kids on the basketball court, "These are OR scrubs" "OR they?" and Ben Stiller naming his kids "Ari and Uzi."

I watched 21 Jump Street the past weekend. That was dumb, but much funnier, and a bit anti-SWPL.

Anonymous said...

If you don't get it, of course, you're hopelessly square.. . (Oh, wait . . . )

The people who are really into it and find it funny tend to be nerdy, dorky hipster types.

Anonymous said...

It's quirky-whimsical funny. Coen Brothers funny.

It's not that bad when it's in Coen Bros. movies because it doesn't dominate the entire movie. There's more to Coen Bros. movies.

Whereas it's basically the entire movie in Anderson's films. It gets annoying really fast.

Daniel Williams said...

Paul Fussel wrote about this in Class. He was talking about lower middle class people wearing shirts which read "Preppy Drinking Team" who think that they're sending up their own status and traditions, when of course no actual UMC "preppy" would wear such a thing.

Those Wes Anderson flicks are about quirky upper middle class people. Regular people who watch them force themselves to laugh because they want to believe that they themselves are members of that group, and are laughing together at their foibles. When the guy next to them laughs, they do too, to make it seems as if they were in on the joke, even though of course, no upper middle class people like the ones depicted in his movies actually exist.

Steve Sailer said...

"In almost all his movies, the protagonist is an awkward nerd with a grating personality who is nonetheless loved by a suprisingly large number of very loyal friends"

That's pretty much "Moonrise Kingdom," too.

But that sounds like the story of Wes Anderson's life: the Wilson brothers, Bill Murray (who has been in six of his movies), these guys know more about being funny than I do, so what am I missing?

Anonymous said...

You didn't think that Bottle Rocket was funny? That's the one Anderson movie that I like, and I don't think that the humor was even particularly subtle. I haven't managed to sit through any of his other movies. I get the feeling that he almost thinks punchlines are vulgar and too obvious, or that an elaborate setup is more funny than an actual pay off. You could almost call it implied humor in the same way that rappers talk about implied melody. With Anderson though it goes beyond implied comedy. His movies have become so abstract that the characters barely seem to have any recognizably human emotions or motivations. You almost have to talk about implied drama, implied action, implied plot, etc. in addtion to implied humor. I think Anderson and his fans think that he has stripped comedy down to its bare bones, in the same way that rappers think that melody is a useless ornamentation.

The funniest Anderson film actually wasn't even made by Anderson. The guy who did Napoleon Dynamite admitted outright that he had taken in Anderson's sensibilities and humor in wholesale in making that film. The difference being of course that he is trying to entertain and obviously cares about his characters. It's a shame that his movies in turned devolved into abstract exercises in Andersonian gibberish.

Anonymous said...

I can't fathom why a person wouldn't find (at least) Bottle Rocket, Rushmore and Tenenbaums hilarious. I'm less a fan of his later movies, as they have become (even) more mannered and ingrown, but I am definitely looking forward to MK.

I think much of his humor comes from people trying to act more mature than they are. This is unusual as most comedy nowadays is the opposite (chronologically mature people who act like teenagers, cf Bad Teacher); it also may be what drives a wedge through his audience and leaves Steve on the other side.

But it's also worth noting that his movies are generally not pure comedies. Almost all of them have a sad undercurrent tracing to missing or inadequate father figures, dramatizing the importance of the father. This is perhaps difficult to parse for modern audiences (since everyone knows men/fathers are disposable), thus going over their heads, but I'm surprised that Steve misses it when a grumpy-gus reviewer like James Bowman does not.

The 'quirkiness' is, to be sure, something one wishes he'd grow out of somewhat, but it does make sense thematically/cosmically that someone with his obsessions would get stuck in a cycle of emulating 70s auteurs (Hal Ashby? I guess?) and Salinger. If you let that slide, and I don't know why one wouldn't, his movies can be very enjoyable, 'funny' or not. I look forward to MK.

Anonymous said...

To me Anderson's most satisfying movies are "Bottle Rocket" and "The Darjeeling Limited" because they have a bit more depth and less cuteness than the others, and fuller characterizations. Interesting that Owen Wilson plays a similar character in each.

I recently heard bits of an interview Terry Gross did with Anderson; he comes off as such a spergy art nerd that it almost seems like a put-on. He's affected, like his films.

As to whether his films are funny, they get occasional chuckles from me, and some internal amusement. A couple of funny moments spring to mind: in Tenebaums, when Luke Wilson's tennis star despondently takes his shoes off on the court; and when it's revealed that in her wild phase Gwyneth Paltrow's character's sex partners everyone included a Papuan tribesman.

Steve Sailer said...

"I think much of his humor comes from people trying to act more mature than they are."

Okay, I can see that now. There's definitely a Salinger aspect to Moonrise Kingdom.

Still, I don't see that as making MK funny. And that's a problem because there's such a huge investment in Wes Anderson's movies in setting up funny situations that don't payoff.

An old person pretending to be young is an easy way to get laughs (e.g., Falstaff), but a middle-aged Evelyn Waugh pretending to be old can be funny (e.g., Claude Cockburn's story about the boring speaker inspiring Waugh to take his Victorian ear trumpet off and lay it on the table). Maggie Smith has been getting laughs for decades with a similar shtick.

And I could see being funny by frustrating the audience by delaying the punchline or leaving it out altogether, but I don't sense that in Anderson.

Anonymous said...

You thought that Idiocracy was funny, but it wasn't. Must take an idiot to understand that humor.

Anonymous said...

WA's movies are basically very sappy, but he uses whimsy + affectless style to give it a hipster gloss, allowing hipsters to wallow in it without feeling ashamed.

Steve Sailer said...

"The guy who did Napoleon Dynamite admitted outright that he had taken in Anderson's sensibilities and humor in wholesale in making that film."

I was fascinated by the screening of Napoleon Dynamite: all of Hollywood's Beautiful Young Mormons were there (in retrospect, I'm guessing the starlet who most floored me could well have been Amy Adams, who was a year away from becoming a name in "Junebug"). They all thought it was hilarious, but I didn't get it. I kind of get it now.

Aaron B. said...

"I only saw Rushmore, and it wasn't funny. That was when I really wanted to believe too,"

Same here. On paper, Rushmore looked like exactly the kind of movie I would love. The previews looked great. In practice, it left me cold. I could recognize some smart or funny moments and concepts in it, but they were lost in the overall studied blandness of the movie. It makes me think of taking a bunch of bright, interesting colors of paint, and mixing them together in a bowl, resulting in a murky brown color. When I try to remember Rushmore, everything is murky brown.

But again, I like quirky movies, so that's not the problem. Rushmore just felt like it was winking at me, saying, "Isn't this smart? Aren't you smart for liking it?"

I haven't seen any of his other movies, and I probably won't. Judging from the comments here, even people who like his movies recognize the flaws I'm talking about and say that they've been increasing since Rushmore, so I might as well stay away.

Steve Sailer said...

"Coen Brothers funny."

I find almost all Coen Brothers movies very funny, but they are more traditional underneath it all in their old-fashioned comedy of Jewish hostility: e.g., insults exchanged with expert timing.

Anonymous said...

Most of the funny bits in RT were provided by Stiller, from memory. Rushmore is overrated.

I wouldn't underrate yourself Sailer, you do comedy well. The white privelege conference post was funny. What has Bill Murray done in the last decade that is as funny as say, Ghostbusters?

Not every comic is a Leslie Nielson or Rodney Dangerfield.

Aaron B. said...

"This is perhaps difficult to parse for modern audiences (since everyone knows men/fathers are disposable), thus going over their heads, but I'm surprised that Steve misses it"

Maybe he didn't miss it. You know, the moral of The Emperor's New Clothes isn't that the boy who ruins the fun for everyone somehow missed how fabulous the emperor's new clothes were.

This is the second Wes Anderson discussion I've been involved in, and both times someone has suggested that he movies are over our heads, that we're too modern, too dumbed down by meaningless action movies, have too short attention spans -- in short, that his movies are better than us. Which is pretty much how Rushmore felt. "This doesn't have to be overtly funny, because it's so awesome that you will laugh to show that you understand it." No thanks.

Harry Baldwin said...

FWIW, I'm with Steve on Anderson. About a half hour into "The Royal Tennenbaums" I turned to my wife and said, "This isn't doing anything for me. How about you?"

"Me neither," she answered. So we walked out and went into another theater where we picked up another movie a half hour into the story. Even that was better than Anderson.

This is all too subjective to argue about, though. Steve just said he didn't get "Napoleon Dynamite" and I have trouble understanding how anyone could not find that hilarious. It even contributed some catch phrases to the culture, like "Wayne's World."

Anonymous said...

This fellow


compares WA Wes Anderson to WA Woody Allen and declares in favor of the first:

"Anderson’s films are outwardly childlike but conceal mature emotional insight. Allen’s films play at urbane adulthood but are at heart sophomoric."

@Anon 12:48
"There's more to Coen Bros."

Often provided by somebody whom the absentminded Coens fail to credit (E.g. Dashiell Hammett).

slumber_j said...

"Probably tells more about me than about Wes Anderson but I liked Rushmore, loved The Royal Tennenbaums and, after several attempts, couldn't finish neither The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou nor The Darjeeling Limited. It's as if the director decided to test just how much bullshit his audience can take. (A lot, if IMDB scores are to be believed)."

Right there with you.

"The people who think Anderson's stuff is funny think that thinking his stuff is funny is cool. And they're just trying to be cool."

Did you just call me Coletrane?

Anonymous said...

I think the first commenter nailed it.

I saw Moonrise yesterday, and it was the first Wes Anderson movie I've seen. Going on Moonrise, I won't bother seeing another.

In my experience, "hilarious" = "forced humor" and this movie does nothing to change that.

Did you get the "infirmary costume" worn by the ringleader kid who gets stabbed with scissors by the girl? It's a KKK robe. That's subtle movie-making.

Also — maybe this is characteristic of Anderson's movies — there's a persistent knock laid on christianity, from the money grubbing "reverend" to the awful foster parent who signs his kiss-off letter to Sam with "Godspeed".

I'm not even religious and this kind of casually snide stuff bugs me.

A waste of $10 and two hours.

Anonymous said...


You didn't laugh when Napolean had to eat eggs for lunch after spending the whole grueling morning cleaning chicken cages? Then he got paid in pennies?

Also, how about Bill Murray in the elevator with a vodka tonic in his shirt pocket? That was my go to party move for a while.

Dan in DC

slumber_j said...

Anderson's brother Eric is a minor acquaintance whom I don't much like, and he is indeed a big-time Aspergery art-dork. Visually it's his aesthetic that informs his brother's movies' production design.

Anonymous said...


I enjoy all of Anderson's films.

If there is any conservative subtext to them is that they are not "lovable loser" against "the man" stories. In Anderson's films people are their own worst enemy.

Dharjeeling wasn't funny, but had more emotional depth than the typical Best Film nominees

Henry Canaday said...

Greatest comic movie character based on real-life actor: Lee Marvin’s performance as the epically drunk gunfighter in “Cat Ballou,” based on the off-camera behavior of Alan Ladd during the filming of “Shane.”

Anonymous said...

Speaking of the Coen Brothers, Steve, did you ever review A Serious Man?

DaveinHackensack said...

An Anon mentions Idiocracy above. Although Mike Judge has little in common with Wes Anderson, it occurs to me that I had a similar reaction to Idiocracy as I did to the few Wes Anderson movies I've seen: clever, bemusing, but laugh-out-loud funny only in a few spots (in Idiocracy, when Luke Wilson's character gets handed the diagnostic device, for example).

peterike said...

Saw "Moonrise" last week. Small crowd, but consistent out-loud laughing throughout, often quite boisterous laughter. Crowd was the usual mix at my local indie theater: people 60 and over, most easily identifiable as Jews; and young, twenty-something hipster types, a bunch of whom were easily identifiable as homosexuals.

I am neither of those types, yet I found it delightful and funny throughout. It gets a bit off the beam during the long chase scene where it loses some focus, but overall I loved it.

As some have said above, a lot of the humor is whimsy, and many people do not respond to whimsy. Some of it is just quaintly absurd situations. A lot of it is verbal humor rather than visceral, and again many people don't respond to it. You also have a lot of sentimentality and longing for a different world. These movies appeal, frankly, to gentler, more timid and less masculine mentalities. (I think of Henry Adams remark about "a world that sensitive and timid natures could regard without a shudder.")

A movie in this vein, though different in style than Anderson, is "Finding Neverland," a film I also find people don't like at all, yet it's one of my favorite films.

Is there also a certain smug, self-satisfaction at liking these movies? Yes there is, the same way there is at Woody Allen movies or with people who claim to like avant garde art or music (my personal theory is that nobody, literally nobody, likes avant garde anything, and anyone who says they do is just preening).

I think it's unfortunate that people, like Steve, don't find Anderson funny, because I think they are missing a really enjoyable experience. But then, I don't find about 85% of comedies funny in the least, so I'm probably on the losing side of this equation.

Steve: maybe you've said it before and I missed it. But what DO you find funny? Can you name a few films?

William Boot said...

1. Funny is a social thing. People who have watched these at home, even with a handful of people, can have no idea how funny or not funny they are. Given that your readers must average 45 and that people over 30 rarely go out to the movies, I suspect home viewings account for the overwhelming majority of viewings here. So most of this is just worthless.

2. Many people really do find at least some Wes Anderson very, very funny. We are not pretending to like them to signal high IQ and sophistication — they way people are when they pretend to like almost any post WWII architecture. If you never laughed out loud at Rushmore or Royal Tenenbaums or even at bits of Life Aquatic, then there is a major type of funny that you don't get — a type of funny that is shared by a lot of high IQ people, though obviously not all.

3. I'm utterly confused by the assertion that Anderson's movies are not funny because they are very stylized and removed from human emotions. Most things that are funny are funny because of that. If the people feel real pain, then much humor is unfunny. Has anyone here seen that Seinfeld thing? Not a lot of emotion or reality there. How about early Waugh?

Marlowe said...

Anderson strikes me as the film world version of John Irving - The world according to Garp, The Hotel New Hampshire, The Cider House rules, A prayer for Owen Meany (all adapted as movies). His novels have many similar features - quirky eccentric outsiders, a sad atmosphere of loss, disappointment and absence, not too much real humour. His protagonists have often lost their fathers.

SFG said...

The first Anon's probably on the money with the wish-fulfillment for spergies bit. There's probably some element of hipsterism there too, though; a moderately less nerdy friend of mine loved Rushmore, while I just couldn't relate to it.

I think if you spent enough time with these arugula people you might find the movies funny; it's partly a matter of a shared sensibility, I think.

Personally, I prefer South Park and Borat--people behaving stupidly. Jagshemash!

Norville Rogers said...

"summer vacation island in Rhode Island in 1965"

So it is like an alternate reality version of the Don Draper shtick avant la lettre

Mr. Anon said...

Lena Dunham for nerdy guys.

The Anti-Gnostic said...

Life Aquatic is one of my favorite films, so I must have something in common with Wes Anderson. I could identify with Bill Murray's character: late middle-age burnout manages to keep on faking it and gets a new lease on things, at least for a little bit longer. I liked Rushmore a lot too.

Royal Tennenbaums, characters were just too out there.

Anonymous said...



Clutch cargo cult said...

I always saw Bill Murray in Lost more as Gene Hackman, a bit older and more serious

Anonymous said...

If feminists go Vagina Monologues, do gays go for Asshole Dialogues?

FredR said...

It was funny in Bottle Rocket when Owen Wilson said "I'm not always as confident as I look."


beowulf said...

Emperor wears no clothes situation, people laugh because its SUPPOSED to be funny (and everyone else is laughing). When did Owen Wilson stop co-writing with Anderson? Perhaps he was the funny one.

And yes 21 Jump Street was much much funnier than I expected. I only went because Brad DeLong plugged the hell out of it (his cousin Phil Lord was co-director).

Stealing weed for a high school party from the evidence locker but not cocaine ("we want them to have a good time, not ruin their lives"), now that made me laugh.

Kevin said...

I saw MK at the Laemmle in Claremont, CA this weekend. The typical Claremont crowd of older lefties and young hipsters laughed at the appropriate places, but I was unable to muster a chuckle at any of it. I found the acting by the children, especially the male lead, to be awful to the point of unwatchable. The rest of it seemed stilted and oh-so-cute, and the pacing was off as well. I also had a little bit of difficulty buying off on the sexual exploration the two leads engaged in. It didn't bother me, I just didn't buy it.
The desaturated sepia tone of the film was interesting but not necessarily a plus.

josh said...

So I can admit that I found Benny Hill to be amazingly funny. Really! And Jerry Lewis. The funniest stand-up ever was Sam Kinison. The all around most heartwarmingly funny guy of all time was...Curly.

Anonymous said...

Adam Carolla coined the word "quirkedy" to describe these movies:


pat said...

Thank you Steve. I am not alone. It feels so good to know that.

Whenever I watch a supposedly funny movie and am not amused, I feel alienated. I feel cut-off from what I must think is the mainstream. As they say in the support groups - Thanks for sharing.

BTW am I the only one who was pleased when Sophia Coppola got shot in the third Godfather movie? Or when James Caviezel was killed in The Thin Red Line?


Anonymous said...

There is nothing wrong with you for not finding it funny. You aren't "missing" anything. Wes Anderson's films aren't meant to be "ha ha" funny, they're meant to be "whimsical". Some people enjoy his films and some people don't. It's simply a matter of personal taste, what you're in the mood for at the time, etc.

~ Risto

Anonymous said...

>> Anonymous said...
Wes Anderson's flicks are basically wish-fulfillment fantasies for spergies. In almost all his movies, the protagonist is an awkward nerd with a grating personality who is nonetheless loved by a suprisingly large number of very loyal friends no matter how much he fucks up or craps on everyone around him. Take that fundamental premise, add heaping dollops of quirk and whimsy, and VOILA! you've got a Wes Anderson film. <<

I agree (great observation, btw); but aren't a vast majority of works of fiction basically wish-fulfillment fantasies? Take torture porn. To the people who enjoy such films, that's wish-fulfillment fantasy.

~ Risto

Kylie said...

"these guys know more about being funny than I do, so what am I missing?"

Not a darn thing. You're way funnier than they are.

By the way, if anyone wants to see a dark quirky comedy, I highly recommend the Danish movie, Terribly Happy. If anyone wants to see a gentle quirky comedy, I highly recommend the South Korean movie, Going By The Book.

Steve Sailer said...

"But what DO you find funny?"

I find most movies that try to be funny funny. I don't have terribly discriminating tastes in comedies. So, I'm puzzled by Wes Anderson films because they look like they are trying hard to be funny, but they don't strike me as funny, so I figured they were actually trying to be something else. But now I find a fair number of people think they are funny.

Anonymous said...


funny? not funny?

Anonymous said...


funny? unfunny?

Anonymous said...


funny? unfunny?

C. Van Carter said...

Wes Anderson's parody of Wes Anderson is amusing and off putting at the same time.

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peterike said...

"I highly recommend the Danish movie, Terribly Happy."

Agreed. Good flick. The director's previous movie, Kinamand, is good but not as.

For those who like Anderson's vibe, you have to see Submarine. Hilarious. Also, The Motel.

Anonymous said...

Harold & Maude, Ghost World, American Splendor, Rushmore...

not for everyone.

But The Graduate was a huge hit.

Anonymous said...

Fandango is for weirdos too.

As are Melvin and Howard, Local Hero, and Something Wild.And Baby It's You.
And McCabe and Mrs Miller and Last Detail. And Thunderbolt and Lightfoot.

Anonymous said...

The typical Claremont crowd of older lefties and young hipsters

Yeah that's basically the kind of people that are into Wes Anderson's movies. Most normal guys - conservative-ish, into sports, guy things, etc. - like Steve aren't going to be really into them.

Frankly his movies are kind of gay to most normal guys.

Anonymous said...

quirky classics




Anonymous said...

But now I find a fair number of people think they are funny.

Yeah but those people are lame. They're lefties, dorks, dweebs, nerds, spergs, goons, annoying hipsters, homos, etc.

Anonymous said...


super weirdo movie

John Doe said...

I liked Rushmore, Bottle Rocket, and thought RT was okay. I gave up after that. In general, I've had my fill for one lifetime of awkward and/or annoying/unlikable people in awkward situations being considered funny. That's why I find Curb Your Enthusiasm unbearable. If you want to see rich people or hipsters be a-holes you can go to just about any bar in a big city and see it for free. As a bonus, they tend to use all the same catch phrases as your favorite unlikeable movie character.

agnostic said...

"You almost have to talk about implied drama, implied action, implied plot, etc. in addtion to implied humor."

That's a great way to sum it up, especially the comparison to music lacking melody. It's like how the indie "rock" people just lightly strum chords or play a bassline that is just a single note over and over again. There are no riffs, hooks, grooves, or any kind of motif.

I went to the IMDb quote page for Rushmore and did not remember any of the memorable quotes. Ornamental motifs are meant to stick in the audience's mind and in a way bond them to the movie, song, etc.

Wes Anderson movies and indie music purposefully do *not* want to be remembered. And their fans purposefully choose movies and songs that they will *not* feel bonded to afterward, like when you get a guitar riff stuck in your head, or a punchline that keeps attacking your funny bone.

I don't accept their rationalizations either that hey, it's just something you have to be a quirky outsider to get. Look back 20-30 years ago, and the quirky outsiders loved music that had motifs (the Smiths), that were also danceable (New Order), and that had both those things plus a darker lyrical focus on isolation -- but coming at it from a desire to connect with others, not to shrink into further alienation (Talk Talk).

agnostic said...

In movies, there was the Rat from Fast Times -- a passive pussy kind of guy, but still likeable and willing to break out of his shell, wanting to share in the fun of others. Ditto the two dorky characters from Weird Science.

And of course the best performances of the outsiders trying to act older than they are -- Veronica and J.D. from Heathers. That movie is so gripping because there's actually a protagonist and an antagonist, melody and counter-melody, driving the action forward. Not just two dopes wallowing in passivity, having no influence on each other. It also does a great send-up of the self-styled rebel outsider who is actually more of a misanthropic loser.

Those are some of the most quotable movies, not just for the coming-of-age genre either.

And there's real character development because the characters are inter-connected and have to negotiate their own desires as well as the counter-desires of the others.

In the typical QUIRKY CHARACTERS movie, they're all socially and emotionally disconnected and uninvested from one another. So they're not shaped dynamically. They all just sit there morosely wishing that they could get what they want.

They are movies and songs for those who fundamentally mistrust other people, and are too paralyzed to open up and share in some good old communal fun, and to just accept the occasional antagonisms and rivalries as the price to pay for social life.

It's almost painful and saddening to see this stuff enjoy the popularity that it does. A real sign of how fragmented and nihilistic the culture has become.

Anonymous said...

It's supposed to be artificial, artisanal, and Ironic--otherwise would just be something like a Whit Stillman movie you'd praise after your next breath. I don't remember "Bottle Rocket" so I have no opinion there; but because the recent Anderson/Baumbach releases get popular based on aesthetic splurging and the imparted feeling that I must be somehow refined by virtue of watching, it shapes the audience for the no-budget mumble movies.

Anonymous said...

There's a saying: style makes the fight. It could also be said, sensibility makes the like.

There are some things which we can all agree on. JAWS is exciting, AIRPLANE is funny, BICYCLE THIEVES is moving, LAWRENCE OF ARABIA is spectacular, etc. It's like ice cream is sweet, beef is hearty, soup is warm, cheese is cheesy, etc.

But whether one gets or doesn't get something or whether one likes it or not depends a lot on sensibility, taste, and personality. And sensibility and taste have to do with genes, upbringing, and eccentricities of personal biographies. It's like things and places special to one person may not be to someone else. Though things we see in movies are not directly a part of our biographies, some movies give off vibes that make some of us feel a kind of emotional/psychological deja vu.
This is why I can't explain to people who don't like HAROLD AND MAUDE and FAHRENHEIT 451 why they're special, at least to me. There's a scene where Harold purchases a hearse at a junkyard and and a plane glides past above. I've never been to that place and it's not part of my biography in any literal sense, but the mood of that scene connects me to something in my life. It's a sense I can't quite put my finger on. Yet, this most elusive quality makes it all the more special to me than most other films even very great ones)whose strengths I can identify and explain. THE LEOPARD is a much greater film, but HAROLD AND MAUDE is more special to me.
And the icy blue skies in FAHRENHEIT 451 puts me in a certain frame of mind. It touches on areas of my mind that I can't really explain but the impact is real. So, when I watch such movies, I'm not just responding to the plot, characters, dialogue, and etc but to the feelings that they trigger. MAKIOKA SISTERS and TIME OF THE GYPSIES do this to me too, but my friends felt nothing. I think they are great movies apart from their appeal to my sensibility, but there's something more involved than 'objective' criteria in my love for them.

Anyway, movies that appeal to sensibility than to senses walk on eggshells. Because their appeal is more elusive, eccentric, and subtle, they can be the most special of films or the most indulgent and misguided. The worst of its kind is GARDEN STATE and KING OF HEARTS. More limp and sappy than whimsical and 'different', their desperate attempt to be off the wall is just so icky-coy. For this reason, I tried to avoid AMELIE, which seemed like some sugary-fairy confection, but it actually worked. A real miracle. Jeunet's other films I can do without. Making 'sensibility films' requires special skills, that of a chef. The tone and temperature have to be just right. If it goes even a bit over or under, the result is either hysterical or sappy. GARDEN STATE made me physically sick.

Wes Anderson makes those kinds of movies, and I can understand why they appeal to some people. The first Anderson movie I saw was RUSHMORE and I loved it. I've seen it again a few yrs back and loved it less(I find Jewish personalities more and more grating) but still appreciated its ingenuity and brilliance.

But I can't stand his other movies.
Why? Too much of a good thing is a bad thing, a problem that crops up with artists over and over, especially with filmmakers.
Take Salinger himself. What was special about CATCHER IN THE RYE? It was the tension between eccentricity/neurosis and reality/facts of life. But later, Salinger just withdrew into his private world, and his creations just inhabited petri dishes in the sterility of his enclosed environment. It was the germic dynamic that made CATCHER so funny and touching. Caulfield thinks himself pure against an impure society, but society would consider itself normal against a walking human germ like Caulfield. So, despite Caulfield's self-enclosedness, reality filters in as he's forced to walk the streets and face up to telling his parents that he got expelled.

Anonymous said...

There is a tendency in any artist to abandon all 'compromises' and just follow one's muse/bliss. The problem is this often leads to infantilism, isolationism, indulgence-ism, solipsism, and sterilityism.
Take Fellini with 8 1/2. A great film and why? The tension between Fellini in the real world and Fellini in the fantasy world. It's this tug of war between reality and fantasy that makes it so funny, dramatic, touching, and special. But his later movies had Fellini flying away in his own balloon.
Why is RESERVOIR DOGS Tarantino's one great film? It's filled with Tarantinoisms but also grounded and set against reality. The fellas play it as a game, but reality is not a game, and people really get hurt. But in his later films, there is nothing but Tarantinoisms. Even when people get hurt or killed worse than in RDs, it's all for retarded laughs as in FAMILY GUY or SOUTH PARK. Or take the first ROCKY movie. It was a sort of a fairytale but grounded in the tough world of Italian-America, and Rocky didn't win. But in the later films, Stallone's ego got the best of him, and it was like Balboa singlehandedly won the Cold War.

RUSHMORE is special because its whimsy plays out in and against reality, thus it is 'ennobled' by it, i.e. it has to finally confront its limitations and delusions and come to some kind of reckoning with how things really are. This reckoning isn't total and so the dream lives on but sufficient to make the character(s) grow up a little.
But in his other movies, Anderson just piles on whimsy on whimsy on whimsy on whimsy, and it just gets annoying. It's like icing upon icing upon icing upon icing without the cake.
Sofia Coppola made the same mistake with that ANTOINETTE movie. If LOST IN TRANSLATION was about the difficulty of translating one's youth(with all its dreams)into adulthood with a better(and less poetic)grasp of life, ANTOINETTE was just one whimsical inanity after another.

For this reason, filmmakers generally do better when they maintain a sense of either reality or genre conventions. Both the reality check and genre check have a disciplining and focusing influencing on the filmmaker. Reality reminds artists that fantasies, whatever their value, aren't real. Genre reminds artists that narratives have certain conventions and rules that must be followed, i.e. it's generally not a good idea for an artist to go wherever his muse takes him, or the result will be something as confused as Bergman's HOUR OF THE WOLF or messy as Fellini's ROMA.

agnostic said...

Here's why the "acting older than they are" bit fails in these kinds of movies -- they don't actually want to mature, but instead to undo puberty and rewind to the pre-sexual and pre-social group phase of their lives, when they enjoyed more unconditional love, and no judgmentalism.

In movies where kids try to act older in order to get the awkwardness over with sooner, we sympathize because they're trying to reach maturity, just with less pain. Who can't identify with that?

But in wanting to avoid the awkwardness by rewinding life back to twee childhood, they lose our sympathy because they're cowards. They also end up being boring killjoys -- rejecting the fun that their age-mates are indulging in, but also no longer able to have innocent fun like children do.

And it may not be as hostile as it is in other regions of the culture, but in the QUIRKY CHARACTERS movies, there is such a palpable fear of being judged. Like, I won't let you near me unless you promise never to judge me.

Again it's a regression to childhood, a refusal to accept the shaping influences of others on your thoughts and behavior. As though the slightest susceptibility to group influence will lead to mob authoritarianism.

You see the same with the indie music crowd. They're so afraid of being judged that they don't even try to make themselves likeable, and cloak their expression in meta-irony just in case they get called out -- "Oh please, like I really meant it..."

No riffs, no solos, no variation in vocal pitch, no charisma or sexuality. It's a retreat from puberty, while no longer being able to sing or play music for fun like a child actually would. It's unsympathetic. Like, grow up already.

John doe said...

"In movies where kids try to act older in order to get the awkwardness over with sooner, we sympathize because they're trying to reach maturity, just with less pain. Who can't identify with that?

But in wanting to avoid the awkwardness by rewinding life back to twee childhood, they lose our sympathy because they're cowards. They also end up being boring killjoys -- rejecting the fun that their age-mates are indulging in, but also no longer able to have innocent fun like children do.....grow up already."

I think this pretty much nails it. Given the serious economic and other such problems the country faces, I'm tired of adults that act like children. It's not what I want to see for entertainment. It's not funny, it's pathetic. I'll take a Vince Vaughn in wedding crashers or Alec Baldwin in 30 Rock. They may or may not be quirky, but they are adults. And they are hilarious.

TGGP said...

Lawrence of Arabia and Wes Anderson are both boring. Lots of Coen brothers movies other than Fargo are good.

beowulf said...

Do you know what's funny... People who apparently think its important that we see his dozen or more youtube links (to Japanese trannie torture porn for all I know) but doesn't think its worth his timen to come up with a screen name even slightly less annoying than Anonymous. See Name/URL below... plug in a name, you won't have to register or anything I promise!

Anonymous said...

"Do you know what's funny... People who apparently think its important..."

Yep, I'm a riot!

Mr. Anon said...

"TGGP said...

Lawrence of Arabia and Wes Anderson are both boring."

"Lawrence of Arabia" was a great movie. And it had one of the darkly funniest lines I've ever heard in a movie (spoken by Anthony Quinn): "Oh, then it was written."

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Anonymous said...


This is so 60s..

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Anonymous said...

Hmm. Looks like some sperg is angry that Steve doesn't care for Wes Anderson. Udolpho, is that you?

Anonymous said...

I've been caught... This will be my last communique...

Anonymous said...

Right. I agree. I just saw an interview with Bill Murray (from last year) calling the film 'very funny' which surprised me. I really enjoyed the film but I didn't know I was meant to find it funny? I guess it was amusing in parts. There were only a handful of people in the cinema I was in and unlike with yours, people weren't laughing. I enjoyed it and thought it had a kind of 'magical' quality (I do like wes anderson's style - placement/cinematography etc.) but now i feel like i'm missing out on something!

Anonymous said...

Great post.