Wes Anderson: Whimsical Like a Fox

Austin Allen in Big Think:

One way to gauge Anderson’s achievement is to set him beside another celebrated auteur with the same initials. Critics who find Anderson’s work immature and Woody Allen’s sophisticated have things backward. (There are exceptions to this rule, but not many.) Anderson’s films are outwardly childlike but conceal mature emotional insight. Allen’s films play at urbane adulthood but are at heart sophomoric.

What has earned Allen his reputation as a sophisticate? Mainly scenes like the one in Manhattan in which he dictates, into a tape recorder, his list of things that make life “worth living”: Flaubert’s Sentimental Education, Mozart’s Jupiter symphony, Cézanne’s still lifes, and so on. This is allusion as name-checking, and falls terribly flat. Joan Didion mocked it as “the ultimate consumer report”; it strikes me more as an earnest undergraduate essay. I haven’t seen Allen’s latest, Midnight in Paris, but the conceit strikes me as equally literal-minded: a screenwriter is transported back in time to meet his literary heroes, whose pantheon he aspires to join. You see? It’s a literate film.

Anderson also harbors high-art ambitions, but mingles far more naturally with his influences. Allusion in his films is a background effect, assimilated in sly, organic fashion. It’s not necessary for him to tell us that J. D. Salinger’s spirit hovers overRushmore or that The Life Aquatic is a screwball Moby-Dick, because he simplyuses these materials and trusts his audience to understand.

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