Owen Wilson's writing career.

Owen Wilson's writing career.

Owen Wilson's writing career.

Deleted scenes, commentary, and more.
July 26 2005 6:15 AM

The O Factor

Was Owen Wilson the key to the Wes Anderson phenomenon?

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Ms. Cross: "Not if you ever f----d before, it isn't."

The first voice, commenting on the group montage, belongs to Anderson:


"There's a storybook feeling, something about trying to create these insular worlds in these movies. I don't know exactly why we're doing this, but …"

Then, cut to the classroom scene, where we hear Owen Wilson in the background. "In Bottle Rocket and Rushmore there's an innocence to the characters," Wilson says. "This scene feels very real in a movie that in a lot of places seems sort of dreamy. This scene has a cringe factor to it because the movie has an innocent feel and this sort of breaks through that. It makes you uncomfortable, which is appropriate because it has to puncture Max's make-believe world."

Telling lines, and, one can't help suspect, somehow indicative of the larger system of checks and balances in the Anderson/Wilson partnership.

Wes Anderson's new screenwriting partner is Noah Baumbach, the youngish filmmaker behind the slight but sharp indie films Kicking and Screaming and Mr. Jealousy. Life Aquatic, the first film he co-wrote with Anderson, doesn't bode well for their creative duet, and the two are working on another script, for a movie based on the Roald Dahl children's book The Fantastic Mr. Fox. In a clubby touch, Baumbach and Anderson conduct the DVD commentary for Life Aquatic over dinner at Bar Pitti, a hip restaurant in Greenwich Village. Baumbach's first movie reference is to Fellini's 8 1/2—part of the canon, of course, but not as much of a gut-punch as Terms of Endearment.

One of the good things about old friends is they never tend to be that impressed with you, because they knew you way back when. Judging from the DVD commentary, Baumbach seems a little in awe of Anderson, his superstar director pal, or at least more inclined to second Anderson's vision than to challenge it, as Wilson had seemed to. You're left thinking that the Anderson-Baumbach partnership is not letting much new air into Wes Anderson's world.

Wilson, for his part, seems to be the one who dropped out of the writing partnership with Anderson. Wilson's acting career took off, and time became scarce. He told a reporter a couple of years ago that he preferred acting to writing because it was more social and spontaneous—you could always improvise lines in the moment; whereas to him, writing a script felt like holing away on a term paper. Fair enough. (Most writers, when confronted with the same choice, would follow Wilson's lead in a finger snap, if only they could.) And Wilson's improv approach to comic filmmaking—an approach shared by his coterie of pals (Stiller, Ferrell, Vaughn, et al.)—has yielded some gems. The best line in Wedding Crashers, hands down—"Scientists say we only use 10 percent of our brains, but I think we only use 10 percent of our hearts"—was reportedly a Wilson original.

And the Wilson-Anderson writing collaboration didn't always sound easy. Wes Anderson once described the producer James L. Brooks' role during the writing and revising of the Bottle Rocket script as partly "refereeing our head-butting matches, Owen's and mine." Brooks put it this way, "Wes is very opinionated and very stubborn. And Owen, who does not think the same way as Wes, is also stubborn." Just as you can't blame Lennon and McCartney for going their own ways, neither can you begrudge Wilson and Anderson. But for those for whom watching USS Anderson's first three movies was like, for another generation, hearing Sgt. Pepper's for the first time, Owen Wilson's shore leave can only dishearten.

Field Maloney, who comes from a hard-cider-making family, is writing a book about wine in America. He likes to drink beer.