Thursday, April 5, 2012

100 Movies - No. 96: Bottle Rocket

96. Bottle Rocket (1996)
Comedy, Crime, Romance, 91 minutes
Directed by Wes Anderson
Starring Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, James Caan and Robert Musgrave

Bottle Rocket is one of the hardest movies I've ever decided to review. The story isn't great and the acting isn't meant to be taken seriously. There aren't any memorable messages or profound events. So why has it become one of my favorite comedies?

It's all about tone and style.

Director Wes Anderson doesn't look for the obvious laugh. It doesn't matter whether the story makes sense or whether events fit perfectly. Anderson reminds me of David Lynch in some ways, but the subject matter is generally much lighter. He creates worlds, and there's something not quite right with those worlds. It makes them fascinating places to visit.

Bottle Rocket begins with Anthony (Luke Wilson) feigning escape from a mental institution which he attends voluntarily. He does this to make things more exciting for his friend, Dignan (Owen Wilson). Dignan is an interesting character. He's capable of doing idiotic things, but he's not exactly stupid. He just can't see the danger in some of the bizarre things he attempts. We are shown his 75-year plan, outlining all the goals he's aiming to reach over the course of his life.

Dignan sees himself as a criminal mastermind and practices by helping Anthony rob his own house. The pair hang around with their friend, Bob (Musgrove), who drives their getaway car because he's the only one of the group who owns a car. The group proves how utterly inept it is during a bookstore robbery. They are so bad that it works well as comedy. After the robbery, the group decides to flee the town and hides in a motel.

Anthony falls in love with a housekeeper at the motel, despite the fact that she can barely speak any English. He does his best to communicate and occasionally enlists the help of someone to translate. That leads to major confusion at one point in the movie.

Dignan eventually introduces the gang to Mr. Henry (Caan), who once fired him from his job as a landscape gardener. Dignan believes that Henry's company is just a front and that he's also a criminal mastermind. He wants to prove to Henry that he can pull off robberies of his own and so he plans a raid on a storage facility with Anthony, Bob and some of Henry's friends. This sequence is ridiculous and highlights just how idiotic Dignan can be. When the robbery is interrupted and they have been seen, he instructs the group to put on their bandit masks.

Bottle Rocket marked the debuts of Luke and Owen Wilson, and Owen Wilson helped Wes Anderson with the screenplay. It's a film made by a group of friends who had known each other since they met in school. The film was rejected by the Sundance Festival, and initial test screenings were a disaster. It appeared that nobody wanted to embrace Anderson's quirky sense of humor. However, over the years, Bottle Rocket has gained a lot of fans.

Wes Anderson's career has blossomed since his debut, but he's always retained that quirky style and tone. Bottle Rocket isn't perfect, but it's significant to me because it's where everything began for Anderson.

If you like Bottle Rocket:

Anderson's work is an acquired taste. Like many directors, he trusts certain actors and works with them on a regular basis. I would honestly recommend all of his films if you are a fan of Bottle Rocket. Start with Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums.

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  1. Nice review. I'm curious to see this. Wes Anderson is one of the most unique filmmakers working today. And the Wilson brothers can be great if given the right material, especially Owen. I agree that the director is an acquired taste. My favorites of his are Darjeeling Limited and Fantastic Mr. Fox. I'm really looking forward to Moonrise Kingdom.

  2. Thanks Fernando. I'm pretty sure that you will like Bottle Rocket if you like Darjeeling.