Weezer followed their brilliant first album (the Blue Album) and arguably even more brilliant second album (Pinkerton) with a MAJOR fall-off in their third (The Green Album…5 years later) and exponentially worse albums following that one (Maladroit and Make Believe). Wes Anderson, to be fair, produced one excellent movie (Bottle Rocket), then two UNBELIEVABLE movies (Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums), and has followed them with two not nearly as good movies (The Life Aquatic and Darjeeling Limited) that still have some strengths. In both cases, critics have praised their mediocre work based solely on the brilliance of their previous greatness. But for me, enough is enough.
When Weezer stopped making albums for 5 years (from 1996-2001), I was devastated. Throughout high school and the beginning of college I was absolutely obsessed with them. Their first two albums were unequivocally the soundtrack to my life for the better part of six developmentally crucial years. When they announced that they were doing a comeback tour playing small venues across the country, I almost wet myself, and their performances did not disappoint. It filled me with hope that the band that had given me so much to sing along to and relate to had more to give…
Then came the Green Album. Critics praised it as a return to greatness for the band that they’d lambasted and then turned around and 69-ed. They were mentioning it among the best punk albums in recent memory.
The only problem was, not only wasn’t the Green Album a punk album (writing 2-minute songs does not a punk album make…Oi-sland in the Sun? No) … it wasn’t even good. At all. Pumped as we were for the heavy riffs of “Hash Pipe” and the sunny Beach Boys harmonies of “Island in the Sun,” the unfortunate truth was that these and the 8 other songs were all really F-ing boring. Rivers Cuomo even referred in interviews to creating a “formula” for writing his idea of perfect pop-songs…an OBVIOUS (read “totally beaten to death”) combination of early-Beatles songwriting with Nirvana’s distortion. But the pop formula fell flat, and the distortion did not make up for the elephant in the room, their total, utter lack of emotional substance.
Maladroit followed and was somehow even worse because they tried to re-capture the “darkness” of Pinkerton, but instead just made the sissiest nu-metal album ever. Make Believe I didn’t even buy. The first 2 minutes of “Beverly Hills” made me throw up in my mouth, and the Peter Frampton guitar solo made me spew it everywhere. Horrible. In just a few short years, my favorite band became a hollow charicature of itself and decided they liked it that way…
I’m older now, and I thought these kinds of attachments to my youth couldn’t have the same impact on me anymore, until I saw The Life Aquatic. For the previous 3 years, Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums had been duking it out on my DVD player to claim the undisputed rank as my absolute favorite movie of all time. And then along came Life Aquatic, perhaps Anderson’s most visually stunning movie to date, and with an incredible all-David Bowie soundtrack played by the previously unknown Seu Jorge.
But watching the movie, there was a familiar feeling…much like what I’d gone through in college with Weezer…Anderson had created a formula for himself: beautiful sets, colors, costumes + memorable location + same cast of characters + daddy issues. The piece of the puzzle that he left out, is the piece that made me love his first three movies…that the characters used emotional absence to disguise their overflowing pain, jealousy, longing, etc. Instead, in Life Aquatic the characters were just…empty. The movie goes on and on, but all that really changes is whether the characters are walking in regular or slow motion.
I found the same to be true of Darjeeling Limited. This time around, I came into the theater with much lower expectations and found the beginning of the movie to be hilarious (Bill Murray’s cameo opening, Frances ordering the meal for everyone, Jack smashing the perfume bottle, etc.) … but their characters never change. The whole movie was just an excuse to use Anderson’s “look at all the people in the different rooms” shtick on a train (for that I could’ve just watched his new AT&T commercials…blech). And then the big “plot” payoff of the movie is revealed when in the very last scene of the movie the characters jump on the train and leave behind their emotional “baggage” (metaphorically represented by their actual baggage…barf).
So, Wes Anderson, hear me now…you’re mailing it in, my friend. Your movies look and sound beautiful, but your characters have lost their depth and it makes me wonder if maybe you have too.
But, in the immortal words of Royal Tenenbaum …
“that’s just one man’s opinion.”