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MFF 1996 Special: Wes Anderson’s Bottle Rocket

August 24, 2016

Bottle Rocket movie poster


I love the people in this film, who are genuinely innocent, more than even they know.

Martin Scorsese

Bottle Rocket was a revelation to me when I was 14. I first heard about Wes Anderson’s directorial debut when he won the MTV award for Best New Director in 1996. I immediately sought out the VHS and watched it three times in two days. There was something refreshing about the meandering plot and low stakes crime. I never knew where it was going and I still think Dignan (Owen Wilson) and Anthony (Luke Wilson) wore perfect book store robbery disguises.

Bottle Rocket robbery


I loved everything about Bottle Rocket. I understood the film despite the fact that I was a 14-year old kid who never stole from his parents or planned a robbery with James Caan. Roger Ebert didn’t write a glowing review for Bottle Rocket but he nailed what is special about it and what was to come.

“Bottle Rocket” is entertaining if you understand exactly what it is: if you see it as a film made by friends out of the materials presented by their lives and with the freedom to not push too hard. Its fragile charm would have been destroyed by rewrites intended to pump it up or focus it; it needs to meander, to take time to listen to its dialogue, to slowly unveil character quirks, particularly Dignan’s.

It’s the kind of film, in fact, that a festival like Sundance is ideal for. An audience that knows about the realities of low-budget independent filmmaking will probably find a lot of qualities in here that might elude wider audiences. I can’t recommend the film – it’s too unwound and indulgent – but I have a certain affection for it, and I’m looking forward to whatever Anderson and the Wilsons do next.

The best monologue of 1996

Bottle Rocket revolves around two bored guys trying to become criminals. The movie starts with Luke Wilson’s character Anthony “escaping” from a relaxed mental asylum. The escape is unnecessary because he could’ve simply walked through the front door. However, Anthony’s friend Dignan (Owen Wilson) has come up with a 75-year plan that begins with Anthony escaping from a place he doesn’t have to escape from. After the successful “escape” they steal from their parents, rob a bookstore and go on the lam. They hold up in a small hotel and Anthony falls for the maid that works there. Eventually the dynamic duo splits up and they end up perpetrating the worst theft ever.

Bottle Rocket is a weird little film that showcases everything that would make Wes Anderson great.  We are introduced to underachieving men who suffer from “exhaustion” and have obvious issues with their family. They are outsiders who don’t think they are outsiders and they plug along despite constant setbacks. They are totally earnest in their pursuits and I love how non-cynical the whole thing is. Anderson and co-writer Owen Wilson loved the characters and their personalities shot from the screen in ways I didn’t think possible.


Wes Anderson’s films aren’t for everybody but I love every single one of them. The reason Bottle Rocket is my favorite is because it solely focuses on creating likable characters. It doesn’t have the flashy set pieces of The Grand Budapest Hotel or visual pizzazz of Moonrise Kingdom. It features several characters being weird and engaging in trivial activities. The characters felt familiar and the film has never gotten old because the themes are timeless and truly unique.

Watch Bottle Rocket!

4 Comments leave one →
  1. John Leavengood permalink
    August 24, 2016 10:55 am

    I feel like if you were to synthesize all of your Wes Anderson writing into one big set of linked essays, you’d have an interesting book there. 😉

  2. John Leavengood permalink
    August 24, 2016 3:57 pm

    Boy, the Wilson brothers looked even more alike back then!

    • August 24, 2016 4:28 pm

      I miss Owen Wilson writing with Wes Anderson. Bottle Rocket, Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums are my favorites.

      • John Leavengood permalink
        August 24, 2016 5:14 pm

        I actually never knew he was involved in the writing. Wow.

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