The trailer for "Gigantic," featuring a very good cast playing quirk to the hilt:
This one is for "500 Days of Summer," (which I like a little more than the "Gigantic" trailer, mostly because it's probably the first movie to feature music from both The Smiths and Hall and Oates:)
Did you watch the trailers? Good.
So Wes Anderson's quirky, funny, wholly original work, primarily "Rushmore" and "The Royal Tenenbaums" begat Oscar nominated and commercial hits like "Little Miss Sunshine" and "Juno." "LMS" and "Juno" have now begat "Gigantic" and "500 Days of Summer." Just as Quentin Tarantino's lightning strikes in the early nineties, "Reservoir Dogs" and "Pulp Fiction" led to nearly a decade of unwatchable crime films about pop culture obsessed hit men, now Anderson's work has led to this new generation of hipster approved, quirky relationship comedies about bored white people falling in love through their love of indie rock, vintage T-shirts, and hoodies.
And it's totally obnoxious.
I'm a massive fan of Wes Anderson's work. "Rushmore" is one of my five "desert island" movies, and I love all five of his movies with a deep and burning passion. The fact that most indie movies that get distribution and any kind of audience are pale imitations of his work (including the Oscar nominated "LMS" and "Juno,") is not his fault, and actually only goes to prove how influential and fresh his body of work really is, thematically, stylistically, visually, and pretty much every other way a film can be influential. I think that's what happens with almost every truly original voice in any artistic medium... but regardless, his work (and the work of similarly original filmmakers, like Alexander Payne, Spike Jonze, and Charlie Kaufman,) have led us to this place in the history of independent film.
These movies seem to have a very similar set of characteristics, which I will list below:
-CONFUSING CHARACTER QUIRKS WITH ACTUAL CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT: Michael Cera likes orange tic tacs. Paul Dano takes a vow of silence. Zooey Deschanel falls asleep at a mattress store and only thinks to ask if anybody can see up her skirt. Paul Dano wants to adopt a Chinese baby. John Goodman wears ridiculous scarves and talks about his daughter's sex life, much like nobody ever does. This is not character development that turns fictional beings into recognizable humans... these are just overly cutesy details that tell us nothing other than the fact that the screenwriters think they are more clever than they actually are. These quirks are generally also what passes for "comedy" in these movies...
-WITHDRAWN AND SHY MALES TAUGHT ABOUT LIFE AND LOVE BY "MANIC PIXIE DREAM GIRLS:" I must give The Onion credit for coining the term "Manic Pixie Dream Girl," or the type of girl "who exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures." This is certainly the case with both "Gigantic" and "500 Days of Summer," as Dashanel is forced to play double "MPDG" duty.
-AN OBSESSION WITH MUSIC, AS IF THIS IS THE FIRST GENERATION OF HUMANS TO EVER "REALLY GET" MUSIC: This is a problem with the attitude of hipsters in general (our parents had The fuckin' Beatles, hipsters... get over yourselves.) I mean, Natalie Portman playing The Shins for a full 30 seconds while Zach Braff sits and listens should not count as cinema. And talking about bands does nothing to reveal character or advance plot, it just communicates to you that Jason Bateman and Ellen Page like Sonic Youth's cover of The Carpenters. Also, why do all these movies represent their lead characters' alienation by having them wear big headphones all the time?
-OUT OF PERIOD, OVER THE TOP COSTUMING THAT IS ALSO SUPPOSED TO CONVEY CHARACTER TRAITS: This is one of the most glaring examples of these filmmakers ripping of Anderson's aesthetic, but his movies kept developing more and more as story book worlds featuring adults who have outgrown them... while these other indie movies just feature people wearing (here's the Q word again,) quirky outfits. Why is John Goodman wearing thick glasses and a white scarf? Why do the characters in these movies look like they are cartoon versions of actors in a 70's Woody Allen movie? Why does the cast of the upcoming (and disappointing sophomore effort from Rian Johnson, who made the wholly original "Brick,") "The Brothers Bloom" look like they raided the wardrobe closet from "The Life Aquatic?"
-LOTS AND LOTS OF WHITE PEOPLE: All of them whining about their relationships (this I can relate to, but still...)
Independent cinema is clearly in trouble right now. It's getting harder and harder for indie movies to get financing, and many of the most prominent independent film companies have shut down in the last two years, including most of the studios' indie shingles. It's not fair to put the responsibility of "saving" indie movies on the shoulders of the filmmakers behind the new crop of Zooey Deschanel starring romcoms with hipster soundtracks, but the only way the whole scene will be saved (or destroyed) is one film at a time. A new Wes Anderson or Quentin Tarantino needs to step up now with an original voice and vision and lay the groundwork for the next group of directors to steal ideas from, because in this economy, independent film can't afford to coast on derivative copies of copies of copies. Indie movies need a good jolt of boldness, inventiveness, fresh ideas, new blood, and actual originality... and new quirks for Zooey Daschanel* to play do not count as true "originality."
*With apologies to the lovely Ms. Daschanel, who I feel is quite talented even if she's been saddled with weakly written roles in these movies and last years horrendous "The Happening," which was at least so madly terrible that at least it wasn't something I'd seen before. And that's more than I can say for "Gigantic" and "500 Days of Summer."