Bottle Rockets

Slate's Culture Blog
Oct. 21 2010 10:48 AM

Bottle Rockets

When the college fiction of Owen Wilson and Wes Anderson recently resurfaced , we asked Slate 's leading theorist of the Wilson-Anderson creative partnership, Field Maloney, to offer his impressions . In a 2005 piece, " The O Factor ," Maloney argued that it was Wilson who provided the key emotional punch that counterbalanced Anderson's flights of whimsy and cultural references.

Well, the Wilson story is pretty good direct, haunting, vivid. Almost makes you sad reminds you how much art and melancholy resides in that dippy, wolfish, Texan preppy who now seems to subsist on making movies like Marley and Me . The voice has a lot of authority and colloquial ease. The story is funny and creepy and ecstatic. (You see Wes Anderson movie montages in the brothers playing in the pool with the fat man.) A lot of Carver and Bret Easton Ellis here, but as a rip-off, it's pretty poised and fluent.

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Wilson's story, too, is interesting in view of his later life: the self-destructiveness and sordidness running through it, seen in a half-melancholy, half-romantic light.

Wes Anderson's stories seem like smart college-kid fiction, no more. What's funny, though, is how much Anderson's later cinematic obsessions and stylistic tics come through, especially in " Let ." Overstuffed and mannered, a little pedantic. Full of descriptions of clothing and Huck Finnish dreams of escape.

It's a churlish stunt to read college juvenilia for clues to a whole oeuvre. But you do get a sense here of how the two men's styles united in those early films and how they might create together something  that they'd never again be able to create apart.

Michael Agger is an editor at The New Yorker. Follow him on Twitter.

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