SNL's Wes Anderson parody reminds us why we love him -- and should hate him
"The New York Times calls it 'You had me at Wes Anderson,'" say the credits of Saturday Night Live's recent Wes Anderson horror-film parody, The Midnight Coterie of Sinister Intruders. By assembling the usual suspects of every Anderson film (pastel aesthetics, mod soundtrack, Owen Wilson) while mocking the public's appetite for anything the hipster-auteur's name is attached to, SNL has laid out a complex paradox that you almost never see in popular culture -- both explaining why we love Wes Anderson and why we should hate him, using the same argument.
Edward Norton as Owen Wilson in the recent SNL Wes Anderson parody The Midnight Coterie of Sinister Intruders.
The parody comes on the heels of the release of The Grand Budapest Hotel trailer, hyping Anderson's new film that appears to contain all of the ingredients we've come to expect -- and treasure -- about his work. Yet with all of this predictable preciousness over the years, why is it that Anderson's reputation for creating stellar films is still firmly intact?
See also: Top five Wes Anderson one-liners
Fashion, hipster intellectualism, twee symmetry, high-brow sexuality, French New Wave cinematography...does that sound like the makeup of an American smash comedy? No, of course it doesn't -- it's the perfect list of what American movie-goers typically avoid. And yet the release of just the trailer for Anderson's new film has garnered the kind of media buzz often reserved for the sequel to a popular buddy comedy.
And while duplicating the same film over and again is a sure-fire way to gain a box-office reputation (after all, Tim Burton has been raking in Saudi-oil amounts of money churning out the same CGI-drenched, Depp/Carter movie for ages), it's a tactic that almost guarantees dismissal by both critics and historians. But very few sane individuals in either of those professions would dare to renounce Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums or Moonrise Kingdom from their roster of beloved gems.
So why is Wes Anderson the exception?
It may be unfair to say that Anderson is making the same movie over and again like he's Tyler Perry or Judd Apatow. He is utilizing different premises, settings and conflicts in each of his stories, and his characters often range in age and cultural background. And yet, whenever another one of these trailers comes out, the universal reaction is always: Yup, there's another Wes Anderson movie. And even though we've seen them all, we can't wait to fill our bellies with another.
The SNL parody attempted to encapsulate all of the redundancies of an Anderson movie, then lay them at your feet in a look how easy it is manner. But all it really did was pluck characters and actors directly out of his previous films (mostly just Tenenbaums), and plop them in a horror movie. This comes close to lampooning the repetition of Anderson's work -- after all, both Bill Murray and Owen Wilson have appeared in seven of his eight films -- but doesn't quite embody the real consistencies of his cannon. Which are the real reason we are all so itchy to see The Grand Budapest Hotel, even though we've already (kind of) seen it.
Similar to that of psychotropic drugs, amusement parks or Fox News, the appeal of Wes Anderson is his ability to hypnotize his audience into a world they recognize, but don't. It's a fantasy land inhabited by real people. The emotional conflicts his characters deal with are universal and timeless (isolation, ambition, jealousy, domestic insecurity), but they are placed in a world of high fashion and precious symmetry. Even though these characers are often juvenile and exotically wealthy, we relate to the vulnerability and maliciousness of the people on the screen, and want to join them in this soft-hued world of nostalgia and snappy one-liners.
It isn't like the land of action films, where the rules of science and hubris don't apply; and it isn't the stark ultra-reality of tragedy-porn films like Precious or Requiem for a Dream. His films are just weird enough to be fantasy, and just real enough to induce empathy. They're a speedball of desire and prudence. Similar to his characters' gluttonous need for praise and attention, the world of Wes Anderson is so damn intoxicating and memorable -- not unlike Star Trek's "nexus of joy" -- that we've all become hopelessly addicted to inhabiting a fresh one whenever the opportunity arises.
For more comedy commentary, follow me on Twitter at @JosiahMHesse.