A decade ago they were the child auteurs who could do no wrong. Wes Anderson and Spike Jonze were not just proclaimed the saviors of the cinema, but of modern civilization as well.
With Rushmore and Being John Malkovitch under their belts, they had finally made the multi-plex safe for The Quirkies, and with that door open, a great era was born. Well this month, both the wunderkinds are back, and the question rings out whether they will make triumphant returns to their rightful glory or a last stand for the once proud Ur-Hoodies.
The intervening years have not been so kind to the young Orson Welleses. For Anderson, the past half-decade has seen his once beloved off-kilter pastiche derided as hollow and increasingly irritating shtick with The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou before he descended to the point of purest self-obsession in The Darjeeling Limited.
For Jonze, the burden of young genius seemed too much to bear. It has been a full seven years since he released his second and last film, Adaptation the mildy celebrated, repeat collaboration with screenwriter Charlie Kaufman. In the intervening near decade, Jonze has publicly wrestled and flailed with an attempted adaptation of the Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are, ultimately making what may ultimately be the last bad choice he ever makes, bringing on fellow wunderkind Dave Eggers to write the Wild Things script, after Eggers penned him a fan letter.
Early reviews are already very mixed at best. Variety wrote, boding ill for the Oscar trophy for which Eggers has no doubt already cleared out a spot on the mantle:
Where the Wild Things Are earns a lot of points for its hand-crafted look and unhomogenized, dare-one-say organic rendering of unrestrained youthful imagination. But director Spike Jonze's sharp instincts and vibrant visual style can't quite compensate for the lack of narrative eventfulness that increasingly bogs down this bright-minded picture.
Meanwhile, in anticipation of his return with The Fantastic Mr. Fox, Wes Anderson is attracting the kind of attention boy geniuses typically attract from those little people who can't appreciate the true nature of boy genius. A startling LA Times profile of Anderson begins:
To be clear, Wes Anderson did not set out to direct his new movie via e-mail. Even if that's precisely how the writer-director's stop-motion animation version of Roald Dahl's beloved children's book "Fantastic Mr. Fox" — a jaunty visual joy ride that features voice characterizations by George Clooney, Meryl Streep and Jason Schwartzman — ultimately came to be, Anderson never intended to become an in-box auteur.
That choice was made all but inevitable, however, by the Oscar nominee's unorthodox decision to hole up in Paris for most of the shoot's one-year duration while principal photography commenced across the English Channel at London's venerable Three Mills Studios. He wasn't working on another project, and nothing Paris-centric demanded he be there; Anderson simply "didn't want to be at Three Mills Studios for two years."
The piece goes on to quote the film's director of animation saying "He has made our lives miserable." Just to put that quote in perspective, in Hollywood when you are on the crew of a film and you are asked about the director, if that director happens to be a tyrannical no-talent hack, the way you express that sentiment in the following words: "He was an incredible inspiration to work with. We looked forward to shooting every day." If the director spends the entire shoot in his trailer snorting coke and sexually harassing extras, the code for that is, "He knew how to get the best out of each and every one of us."
In Hollywood publicity-ese then, "He has made our lives miserable" is the real world equivalent of: this is the single biggest jerk-off anyone associated with this film has ever seen on or off the set. Hitler in the bunker would have been more fun to be around and this discarded Pringles tube understands moviemaking better.
In any event, judging by the trailers, Mr. Fox actually looks to be the most interesting film Anderson has made since....before he started making films, so perhaps the boy genius has actually stumbled upon a magic formula; perhaps Anderson on another continent from his movies is exactly the little something his films needed to make that leap to greatness. Hoodie directors take note!