Can We All Just Admit That Wes Anderson Movies Are…Not Great?

Wes Anderson's filmography is bursting with acclaimed releases that have delighted both critics and audiences alike.

The director's recognizable aesthetic is often imitated, his screenplays attract some of the best actors currently working in Hollywood, and he has been showered with award nominations throughout his illustrious career.

As such, you would be forgiven for thinking that he is above reproach and that everybody is universally charmed by his output. Yet there are some people out there (admittedly in the minority) who just cannot get onboard with Anderson's hipster stylings and quirky gimmicks.

And so we're going to put it out there: He is just the teensiest bit overrated and doesn't warrant all of the gushing adoration that is so often directed his way.

Wes Anderson Is Obviously a Talented Filmmaker

Before we launch into this scathing takedown of a man who, in all fairness, is just trying to make entertaining movies, it is worth acknowledging his impressive list of accomplishments.

First of all, Anderson is a bona fide auteur in the truest sense of the word. Like Quentin Tarantino or Christopher Nolan, he is able to inflect projects with his own voice, while still giving them a degree of mainstream appeal.

He has a unique vision that he has managed to preserve across his entire body of work, even when he is collaborating with major studios, and that is something that deserves to be celebrated. It's a particularly impressive feat in the current era of filmmaking, which the likes of Martin Scorsese have theorized is devaluing movies by turning them into content, rather than art.

Even if you do not like Anderson's style, you have to give him kudos for sticking to his guns and never once diluting his vision or selling out (other than when he made that awful H&M commercial). His breed is becoming increasingly rare nowadays, as enormous blockbusters based on established IPs and legacy franchises reign supreme.

The other thing you cannot deny about Anderson is that he has impeccable craftsmanship. His movies have that "shoe-box diorama" look that appeals to so many people, he has meticulous control over the camera and knows how to block a scene, he does interesting experiments with the aspect ratios of his films (most notably in The Grand Budapest Hotel) and no one can fault his excellent production design.

The Grand Budapest Hotel
Wes Anderson's directorial technique and precise directing in films like "The Grand Budapest Hotel" cannot be faulted. Fox Searchlight Pictures

Everything in his oeuvre feels very precise and deliberate. For instance, his sets are rich with details that are often tucked away in the corner of the frame or that sometimes don't even appear on screen whatsoever.

In short, Anderson is a filmmaker who has rightfully gained a loyal following for turning out idiosyncratic, fundamentally well-made movies. It's no surprise to learn that every single project he has directed (except for The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou) has a fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and that he has a total of 7 Oscar nominations under his belt.

He is not just a critical darling either, with The Grand Budapest Hotel currently sitting at the #190 spot in the IMDB top 250. Not only that, but he doesn't have a single feature that dips below a 7.0 rating on the website, which is not something that many other directors can claim.

...But He Is a One Trick Pony

With all that said, why might somebody take a disliking to Wes Anderson?

One criticism that is often levelled against the director is that he just regurgitates the same formula over and over again. YouTube critic Ralph Sepe has made this point before, claiming: "I'm just tired of seeing the same characters, given the same dialogue, and [Anderson] shooting everything in the exact same way [...] Why don't you grow as a filmmaker?"

Now, to his credit, Anderson's films are not uniformly the same. Two of them are in an entirely different medium from the rest (those being the stop-motion films Isle of Dogs and Fantastic Mr. Fox) and to say that Moonrise Kingdom and Bottle Rocket are identical to one another is just blatantly untrue.

Moonrise Kingdom Screenshot
Some accuse Anderson's films of feeling a little samey. American Empirical Pictures

Yet it is fair to state that Anderson does overuse certain gimmicks and themes, especially in his later career. You are guaranteed to see pastel colors, overhead insert shots, precocious children and the same cast members turning up in every single film. Having a distinctive style is one thing, but this formula is so weirdly specific that you have to wonder when people are going to finally tire of it.

Of course, this is a criticism that you could easily level at any number of filmmakers—Tim Burton and Quentin Tarantino come to mind—but Anderson seems to be particularly reluctant to leave his comfort zone (or to even just walking around the outskirts of it). Also, if you are one of the people who was not enchanted by his unique brand of whimsy the first time around, then just imagine how annoying it gets after the seventh or eighth film that utilizes the exact same tricks.

Wes Anderson's Style Can Be Rather Alienating

On a related note, a lot of the backlash against Anderson can simply be attributed to personal taste.

Audiences tend to fall into one of two camps: either you instantly click with his rigid style, or you find it profoundly irritating. Whether it's because you fail to connect with his oddball characters, are left cold by his monotone dialogue, or just think that the aesthetic is a little posey, it can almost be like an allergic reaction.

The Cinephiliac articulates this view brilliantly in their essay entitled "Why I Hate Wes Anderson." Speaking about their inability to connect with his stories, they write: "Everyone is solemn and apathetic, they don't react with genuine emotion, and they converse as if they take life seriously yet in situations don't act sincerely. Most, if not all, of the characters are unlikable and express little personality for audiences to relate to."

Gwyneth Paltrow in The Royal Tenenbaums
Some struggle to relate to the characters of Wes Anderson films. Touchstone Pictures

Maybe you think that Anderson's writing isn't quite as witty as everybody else does, and that he just relies on getting actors to deliver their lines in a deadpan way. Or perhaps you stopped finding the symmetrical cinematography idea quite as impressive after the 1000th time you had been exposed to it. Whatever the reason for your distaste, you just might not be on the right wavelength to enjoy his work.

The incompatibility issue is summed up well by Jonah Weiner of Slate magazine, which writes: "There's been something kind of obnoxious about Wes Anderson. By now, critics have enumerated several of his more irritating traits and shticks.

"There's his pervasive preciousness [...] his slump-shouldered parade of heroes who seem capable of just two emotions: dolorous and more dolorous [And] there's the way he frequently couples songs [with] slow-motion effects, as though he's sweeping a giant highlighter across the emotional content of a scene."

There is also an argument to be made that Anderson's filmography is plagued by a bad case of style over substance, but that seems a little reductive given how many thoughtful and insightful readings of his movies have been published.

On the other hand, there are some valid critiques of cultural appropriation in Isle of Dogs and an overall lack of diversity which, again, can make his movies a tad off-putting.

Isle of Dogs Screenshot
"Isle of Dogs" was criticized for percieved cultural appropriation. Fox Searchlight Pictures

It Is Starting To Feel Like Self-Parody

Anderson's earlier outings are relatively subtle when it comes to their stylization, but from 2004 onwards he doubled down on all the gimmicks that can make his films come across a little hollow.

In particular, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zizu is stuffed with so many quirks, eccentricities and affectations that it's positively excruciating to watch if you're not a die-hard fan. Even critics who usually fawn over Anderson's work have been harsh on that one, with the Rotten Tomatoes consensus deeming it "smug and artificial."

It's not the only one of his movies that feels that way though, as the trailers for The French Dispatch honestly make it look like a parody of a pretentious hipster film.

Speaking of which, the best thing that Anderson has directed over the past decade was The Midnight Coterie Of Sinister Intruders, a Saturday Night Live sketch that imagined what it would be like if the king of indie dramedies shifted gears into horror. It was funny, self-deprecating, and suggested that even the director himself is aware of his status as a one-trick pony.

All in all, you cannot justifiably assert that Wes Anderson is a terrible filmmaker because that's just silly. He clearly knows how to put together a technically proficient film and he has a really strong authorial presence. However, just because he is competent doesn't mean that he is not also insufferable and full of himself (much like the writer of this article).

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou Cast
"The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou" feels like a self-parody of a Wes Anderson movie. Touchstone Pictures