After watching his latest film The Grand Budapest Hotel, I decided to go back and rewatch Wes Anderson’s first feature film, Bottle Rocket. Along with it being the first film of Anderson, it is the first films of Owen and Luke Wilson as well. I was not exactly blown away the first time, but after becoming more acclimated to the filmmaking of Anderson, I can honestly say I have a better appreciation than when I first watched it.
The film follows the misadventures of three friends trying to score a big heist and make a clean getaway to a better life. Dignan (Owen Wilson) is the mastermind behind their plans and already has the next 75 years outlined out. Anthony (Luke Wilson) and Bob (Robert Musgrave) play his friends who are looped into his schemes. Of course, chaos and hilarity ensues after the gang holes up in a motel and Anthony falls in love with the maid.
The changes in Anderson’s film style over the last 18 years since Bottle Rocket was released are very obvious. What we have come to know and expect of Anderson is basically non-existent in this film. Aside from his beautiful color palettes and soundtrack choice and camera movements, his story-book quality mise en scene, his slapstick humor, dance scenes, classical music, and model-sets are all yet to be developed by him. What we have come to know as “Andersonian” is still to come. Rushmore was the film that set him apart as a unique filmmaker just two years later. There is one scene however, at the beginning that feels very much like some of his later work when Dignan is going over his 75 year plan, if Anderson were to remake this movie again (it was originally a short film) I could perfectly envision the way he would film it.
Of course that doesn’t mean Bottle Rocket is a bad film, but if one were to treat this as a representation of Anderson’s style, they are surely looking in the wrong place.
The plot is very much an Anderson creation. Three bumbling losers, people who don’t things going the best for them, are trying to make a life for themselves. Much like the losers in Rushmore, Max and Herman; or the three brothers in Darjeeling Limited; or even little Sam in Moonrise Kingdom; Anderson always focuses on the loser. As far as the dialogue and story goes, they aren’t as good as some of his later works. It is still an exciting movie and has some really funny heist scenes, but in the end it just doesn’t compare to what we have come to love.
So, if you want to see a pretty solid first movie of one of the best working directors today, go check out Bottle Rocket, just don’t assume that all of Anderson’s films are like that. If you want a real taste of Anderson, start out with Rushmore or Moonrise Kingdom.