Bottle Rocket

Dignan and Anthony chat in Bottle Rocket

“Here are just a few of the key ingredients: dynamite, pole vaulting, laughing gas, choppers—can you see how incredible this is going to be?—hang gliding, come on!”

In 1996, before Wes Anderson was really making Wes Anderson movies, he made his debut with Bottle Rocket. He involved some of his friends, including Luke and Owen Wilson, neither of whom had acted before. This film is far from perfect and is definitely not Anderson’s best, but it was enough to crown him the new king of indie filmmaking and put Luke and Owen Wilson on the map. Woven into the story, you’ll see the themes that are so prominent in Anderson’s later works: subtle ennui, loneliness, and chronic abnormality, all glazed over with quirky humor and a rebellious streak. For his first feature film, this is actually a very impressive feat. The writing is clever, the story is memorable, and the soundtrack is killer. Overall, this is a pretty impressive indie comedy that’s a great glimpse into the formative years of Wes Anderson’s career in filmmaking.

The story opens with Dignan, a young man with some wild ideas, busting his friend Anthony out of a mental institution, despite it being a voluntary stay. Dignan then recruits Bob as a getaway driver before unveiling his 75-year plan for a successful career in burglary. They decide to take some time building their skills, robbing Anthony’s mom’s house and a bookstore, before plotting their first real heist, which they hope will impress Mr. Henry, an old mentor of Dignan’s.

I’m just not very good at this selling-yourself stuff, OK? So, I’m just gonna tell you the truth. I really wanna be a part of this team. And I’m the only one with a car.

Like most 90s indie films, this one has great banter, but the execution of some of the scenes is stellar. Stand-out scenes include Bob getting his ass kicked by his older brother as Dignan and Anthony calmly have a conversation with friend Stacy, and Dignan laying out his convoluted plan as Bob is so enamored with their new gun that he can’t pay attention. Anderson’s skill in directing a scene is apparent in this film, and some of the scenes are brought to life in ways that a script could never capture.

Dignan points a gun with a strip of tape over his nose
“Wha—why is there tape on your nose?”

Despite a few glimpses of despair and depression, this is a fun film that will keep a smile on your face throughout most of it. Dignan’s near-fanatical desire to be a criminal is hilarious when paired with his own ineptitude, and the rest of the gang is equally winsome with their antics. Compared to Anderson’s other films, this is a pretty simple story, so the characters really take over and just get some time to play on screen. The characters and their plans seem a little out there, but they’re surprisingly relatable and charming thanks to some little touches that add depth to the characters.

Bottle Rocket is fun, but I don’t know that it’s everyone’s cup of tea. When this film was test screened by distributor Columbia Pictures, it actually set a record for the worst test screening points in the studio’s history. It’s quirky and funny, but its indie roots are showing and it may be too abstract and different for some. But if you like Wes Anderson’s other films or other 90s indie films, this would be a great one to see. I rather enjoyed it.

View my complete list of classic, essential, or just plain good movies!

Runtime: 1:31
Director: Wes Anderson
Year: 1996
Genres: comedy, crime, indie
Rating: R

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