Oslo, August 31st

I wrote about why Joachim Trier’s films - Oslo, August 31st and Reprise - are just the best, for The Paris Review Daily. I also get a kick out of how the star of both films, Anders Danielsen Lie, is a doctor in real life, released a concept album about autism, is married to a supermodel, and the couple of films that he’s been in - including one he made as a ten year old that was nominated for an Academy Award - have done wonderfully. Do his friends hate him for being very successful at life?

For those who like to keep score (check Richard Rushfield’s “The Painfully Brief Candle of Modern Auteurs,” a totally fun theory) Trier is now two for two with great films, and I’m really curious as to whether he can keep it up - for two directors that I was very excited about at one point, Wes Anderson and David Gordon Green, their third film was where the seams started showing (Team Rushmore, less The Royal Tenenbaums), and they’ve been up and down ever since, one director sticking to a vision, the other… not. I think it’s different for foreign directors that can get arts funding, however.

I have slight issues with the use of the word “auteur” as an French, chic-sounding catch-all replacement for “film director,” as, contextually, Kael and Sarris-ly, at the least, it referred to seeing a director’s signature even in work-for-hire stuff, when it’s more used willy-nilly these days with relatively visionary directors of any stripe, including writer/directors. Kind of like the evolution of the word “peruse,” which I think means to read thoroughly and carefully in the OED and now is used for indicating that you flipped through something.

You began, spectacularly enough, with the excellent “Bottle Rocket”, a film we consider to be your finest work to date. No doubt others would agree that the striking originality of your premise and vision was most effective in this seminal work. Subsequent films - “Rushmore”, “The Royal Tenenbaums”, “The Life Aquatic” - have been good fun but somewhat disappointing - perhaps increasingly so. These follow-ups have all concerned themselves with the theme we like to call “the enervated family of origin"©, from which springs diverse subplots also largely concerned with the failure to fulfill early promise. Again, each film increasingly relies on eccentric visual detail, period wardrobe, idiosyncratic and overwrought set design, and music supervision that leans heavily on somewhat obscure 60’s "British Invasion” tracks a-jangle with twelve-string guitars, harpsichords and mandolins. The company of players, while excellent, retains pretty much the same tone and function from film to film. Indeed, you must be aware that your career as an auteur is mirrored in the lives of your beloved characters as they struggle in vain to duplicate early glories.
— Remember when Steely Dan wrote Wes Anderson a letter and it was glorious? I forgot that Steely Dan and I are totally on the same page when it comes to Wes Anderson preferences. They are also extremely astute writers, particularly on the topic of film.

When I was younger

It’s a bit of a shame that Wes Anderson was arguably the most influential director of the 2000s. Granted, he’s released a mere six films, but since he came onto the scene as such a full-formed visionary with a distinct sense of style, other directors have spent the past ten years trying to steal from him as much as possible. And this quirk-as-substance occurred at the exact same time that Anderson’s films dived into a hermetic, smug hole, becoming stories about sad rich people. (Not for nothing did he stop writing with Owen Wilson and start writing with Noah “hack” Baumbach.)

When I saw The Life Aquatic, I was sitting next to a woman who just yelled out “weird” every time something “funny” happened. She was correct. None of the action went with the characterization. It was weird for weird’s sake, nothing meaningful about it. I walked out of The Darjeeling Limited. I couldn’t take it. And I watched Bottle Rocket every day in high school. It was a meaningful and major film for me. (Funny enough, Fantastic Mr. Fox - while not quite a return to form - was the best Anderson film in years, partially, I think due to the freedom of someone else’s work, and the fact that Anderson could spend time being completely meticulous over the animation, stop-motion animation is the perfect genre for a man who makes dollhouse films.)

But I think the fact that Wes Anderson has become shorthand for “indie quirk” has taken away from his very real talents as a director. Rushmore is a perfect movie. I adore it. It’s one of those movies that I’ve ingested; I read a recent piece of mine and I realized that Rushmore (and the Gilmore Girls) was definitely an (indirect) influence. But it’s there, for sure, and you can suss it out.

I think the reason that both Bottle Rocket and Rushmore spoke to me was the fact that they’re films about strivers and they’re films about class. What’s appealing about Bottle Rocket - having a bunch of twentysomething guys find meaning by becoming great “thieves” - it’s an awesome metaphor for how confusing the twenties are. How you want to define yourself while the world’s telling you no. And do you remember when it came out? How the comic rhythms were so off, unfamiliar, and different. It felt like they were speaking a new language.

Rushmore, on the other hand, is a romance between a boy and his school. For Max, Rushmore is a ticket beyond being a barber’s son. It’s what makes him special, what makes him somebody, and when he’s without it, he’s adrift. Bill Murray is such a wonderful foil to that character as the deeply unhappy Mr. Blume. The oil man may have everything - including the riches of a self-made man - but he doesn’t have Max’s enthusiasm and zeal for life. It’s what makes his betrayal with Max’s number-one crush Rosemary so cruel, and truly a declaration of war.

The journey in Rushmore is about a kid trying to define himself and figure out how to exist - wonderfully - in the world. It’s more than fitting that the film ends with Max finding himself again, putting on an epic Vietnam play, older, wiser, and sadder. And when it ends with a dance with Miss Cross, set to The Small Faces’ “Ooh La La,” it’s truly a magical moment in film.

“Ooh La La” is such a great song - lyrically, it’s a bitter warning to a young man from his grandfather about the mysteries of women, but the open way that Ronnie Wood sings it, loping across lines like poor old granddad/I laughed at all his words, it swings back around to innocence and joy. He hits the chorus wonderfully: “I wish/that/I knew what I know now/When I was younGAH,” stressing the last syllable of “younger” like he can’t even pronounce it right, in a super UK way. Mixing that song with Max Fischer smiling enigmatically at Miss Cross, saying he didn’t get hurt that bad - it’s transcendent, and the the film completely earns it. It’s why the film is a classic.