Is Wes Anderson overdoing it?



Brian Keim writes about his thoughts on Wes Anderson’s directorial style.

Brian Keim, Staff Reporter

When the trailer for director Wes Anderson’s upcoming sci-fi film “Asteroid City” recently dropped, it showed off a lot of footage that feels very in-line with Anderson’s previous films. While that was promising to some fans, it also begs the questions: is Anderson overdoing it? Has he officially crossed the boundary between artistic style and formulaic directing? Now feels like a better time than ever to take a brief look at some of Anderson’s prior works, comparing their visual styles and determining whether they are artistically cohesive or simply redundant.

Making his feature-length directorial debut with 1996’s “Bottle Rocket,” Anderson has amassed a hefty and respectable line-up of films over the past few decades. Any viewer of his films will immediately recognize his unique style. An Anderson film is largely understated, prioritizing subtle character moments over explosive action sequences. Characters tend to speak with snappy dialogue in a relatively monotone voice, giving the films a layer of surrealism to what may otherwise be a fairly standard slice-of-life film. The cinematography of Anderson is unmistakable as well, primarily relying on long takes that often feature an entire conversation in one single unmoving shot. Conversely, long panning shots are also used intermittently, often to establish an interior location while making it look more like an oversized dollhouse than a real building. More than anything, Wes Anderson films are always intricate. Every last background detail, extra and character movement is planned out to be in harmony with the focus of the scene. His 2021 film “The French Dispatch” in particular flows so intentionally that camera movements and character actions can even be synched up to the routine ticking of a metronome. No matter how you look at it, there’s nothing quite like a Wes Anderson film. However, that fact may prove to be a bit of a problem.

Wes Anderson himself. (Flickr)

All of the trademark features of Anderson’s movies that were just mentioned are great, but they also appear in every single one of his films. “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” “Moonrise Kingdom,” “The French Dispatch” and more – they all feel like they are cut from the same cloth. Compare his style to that of Steven Spielberg, Christopher Nolan, Hayao Miyazaki or any number of other directors. Yes, they all have their own trademark techniques, but their movies all feel wholly distinct. Steven Spielberg in the 1990s alone directed “Jurassic Park,” “Hook” and “Schindler’s List,” three films that vary drastically in tone, direction, style and genre. The same can’t be said for Anderson’s films which, although they differ in genre, all feel similar in tone, dialogue and cinematography. He has definitely found his niche, but it’s hard not to wonder if this formula is becoming stale. After all, his style has been used for over 20 years. People have been annoyed at the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s homogenized movies for nearly 15 years, so why should Anderson get away with what he does? The answer is actually quite simple: because Wes Anderson makes it work.

Even though his films share so many similar elements, I personally have not grown tired of Anderson’s style and don’t see myself doing so in the near future. Despite reusing so many techniques, every Wes Anderson film I’ve seen feels so unique while also feeling so true to his style. “Fantastic Mr. Fox” is a stop-motion family drama mixed with a high-energy heist comedy, but it feels very stylistically similar to “Moonrise Kingdom,” a live-action love story about two young outcasts. However, at no point do these two films ever feel derivative of each other, nor do any other Wes Anderson films for that matter. 

Whenever Anderson makes a new film, he adapts his style to whatever story he tells. If he’s making a heist movie, there will be a lot of long, intricate takes showing the heist taking place. If he’s telling the story of an adventure through a trash-filled land inhabited by dogs, he will include a lot of wide shots to establish how barren the setting is. 

Yes, Anderson has a distinct style, but he keeps innovating and reinventing that style in order to keep every movie fresh. He finds the delicate balance between cohesion and innovation. By the looks of things, that’s exactly what he’ll continue to do, for “Asteroid City” and beyond – and I will welcome it.