Bottle Rocket (1996)

“I don’t think your happiness is quite appropriate.”

#1 of Wes Anderson Series

Wes Anderson’s first feature film, and also only the second film I have seen from the director. The first being last year’s Moonrise Kingdom that I enjoyed very much. It was interesting to go from the director’s latest film to his very first because you can definitely see how far he has come. Bottle Rocket, although no masterpiece is a quirky and fun little gem that was the mark of some very promising careers among Anderson and the Wilsons.

Plot: Dignan (Owen Wilson) and friend, Anthony (Luke Wilson), have just “escaped” from a mental institution. And by escaped, I mean they snuck away from a very low-security hospital that acquires their patients on a purely voluntary basis. Officially “free”, Dignan is putting together a master plan involving a robbery in order to get the two, plus their friend Bob (Robert Musgrave), the attention of a bigger and more professional criminal, Mr. Henry (James Caan). He strives to be part of Mr. Henry’s “elite” group of criminals who perform actual heists. Despite the fact this this unlikely trio lacks the proper personalities and frankly, intelligence, to pull off any criminal act, Dignan is more than determined.

Although Bottle Rocket has its flaws, it makes up for those flaws in many lovable aspects about the film. At times the narrative is a little weak and the plot lacks urgency in some areas, but the quirky story and characters are really what make the film, and that seems to be what Anderson is really all about anyway. This film was also the debut for the Wilson brothers and I’m glad to see that they at least started off on the right foot. Both of the brothers stand out in the movie, but Owen is the one who is given the character with a little more to work with. Dignan is such a weird and funny character that you could tell he really had fun being. Where Anthony also has his moments, I found him a little bland as we don’t really delve too much into him.

This film is a comedy but not the slap-your-knee crazy funny where we are simply humored by funny one liners and situations. It’s definitely funny, don’t get me wrong there. It’s just funny in the way that the character’s weirdness and the story itself is humorous. Because these three are the most unlikely criminals ever, with Anthony only along for the ride because of Dignan and Bob only because he seems like he doesn’t really want to be alone or have anything better to do, it’s a silly situation to say the least. Pure comedic gold for me near the end was when Dignan is being visited by the other two in prison and he says to them “We did it. We really did it.” Nevermind the fact that he is obviously behind bars and the heist was a huge failure, just the fact that they attempted it was satisfaction enough for him. In the end, he wasn’t attempting to get rich or anything, he was searching for something more.

Like I said, the film does have it’s downfalls. At times the plot seems to accelerate and then slow down and then speed up again. The second act of the movie is purely devoted to showing us a romantic relationship between Anthony and a housekeeper of the motel they are hiding out at, Inez (Lumi Cavazos). The heist action is completely absent from this section as we focus on these two and then we slowly move into the third act where the robbery stuff is happening again. The urgency just isn’t there, but after all, this isn’t really a movie about crime. It’s a movie focusing on these three men’s relationships.

All of the things that people love about Wes Anderson’s films are there, though. Being his first film, it’s obvious that the idea behind it is there although it could use it’s polishing up. I enjoyed it’s quaintness though, and it was definitely backed up by a very solid cast. It was refreshing to see these wonderful performances from Luke and Owen and both Musgrave and Caan contributed with some memorable roles as well. Caan’s character definitely felt a bit underdeveloped and lacked the amount of screen time it required to get me really into his character, despite the amount of time the movie spends talking about Mr. Henry, but the few scenes he had he held wonderfully.

Conclusion: Although it does have it’s loose ends, Bottle Rocket was a great start to Wes Anderson’s directing career. A simple film that gives you enjoyment from it’s pure uniqueness and lovable characters, it definitely has some entertainment value. It’s not to be taken too seriously, and if you do, the flaws might start poking through. But at the time of the film’s release 17 years ago, it definitely gave you the promise of more to come from the Anderson-Wilson filmmaking duo.

UP NEXT—–>Rushmore
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