With His Ninth Film, 'Isle of Dogs,' Wes Anderson's Female Collaborators Are Few and Far Between, and It's Getting Kind of Old
Over the course of the nine full-length films Wes Anderson has directed, we’ve come to know his most frequent collaborators: they’re mostly Wilsons or Coppolas, and they’re mostly men. Assess for yourself:
• Owen Wilson, brother of Luke: In six of the nine films Anderson has directed and co-writer of Bottle Rocket, only sitting out of Rushmore and Isle of Dogs
• Luke Wilson, brother of Owen: In four of nine
• Jason Schwartzman, whose mother is Talia Shire, born Talia Coppola: In six of nine
• Roman Coppola, cousin of Jason: Often a co-writer, who co-wrote with Anderson three of nine films (The Darjeeling Limited, Moonrise Kingdom, and Isle of Dogs)
• Bill Murray, who needs no introduction, and who has worked Schwartzman’s cousin Sofia Coppola in the past: Nearly 100% accuracy — in eight of nine
• Other acclaimed (mostly white) dudes who wandered into the Anderson world and haven’t left: Willem Dafoe (chopping off fingers in The Grand Budapest Hotel), Jeff Goldblum (whose fingers Dafoe cut off in Grand Budapest Hotel, and another member of the Isle of Dogs voice cast), Adrien Brody (most recently a smarmy rich dude who hired Dafoe’s assassin character to cut off Goldblum’s fingers in The Grand Budapest Hotel), and Edward Norton (I’m honestly kind of surprised his once-very-intense energy works in Anderson’s filmography, but here we are, and yes, that’s his voice as the dog Rex prominently featured in the trailers for Isle of Dogs)
Where are the women, you may ask? Well, that’s the thing — they’re around, yes, but Anderson seems to only have two preferences: To be an actress in a Wes Anderson film, you’re either a legend or an ingenue. The former may get you repeat performer status, the latter probably won’t.
Unlike how Anderson films seem to absorb male actors of a certain age at a healthy clip — like the sprawling cast of The Grand Budapest Hotel, which included Ralph Fiennes, the aforementioned Owen Wilson, Murray, Brody, Dafoe, Norton, and Goldblum, plus Harvey Keitel, F. Murray Abraham, Jude Law, Tom Wilkinson, and Fisher Stevens, or that of Isle of Dogs, which features the voices of Bryan Cranston, Lieb Schreiber, Courtney B. Vance, and Ken Watanabe, and again Norton, Murray, Goldblum, Keitel, Abraham, and Stevens — most women appearing in an Anderson film are one-and-dones. Observe:
1996: Bottle Rocket
Lumi Cavazos from Like Water for Chocolate as love interest Inez. Didn’t appear in any other Anderson films.
Sara Tanaka (she’s a doctor in real life now; good for her!) as Margaret Yang. Didn’t appear in any other Anderson films.
Olivia Williams, who was just mentioned in our Best Olivia piece, as Rosemary Cross. Didn’t appear in any other Anderson films.
2001: The Royal Tenenbaums
Anjelica Huston as Etheline Tenenbaum. Huston is the first of Anderson’s few female frequent collaborators; I’m sorry, I just reread that out loud to myself and that was both too much alliteration and just enough. Get at my level, Sean Penn!
Gwyneth Paltrow as Margot Helen Tenenbaum, the favorite Halloween costume of ennui-obsessed college freshmen everywhere. Didn’t appear in any other Anderson films.
2004: The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
Cate Blanchett as Jane Winslett-Richardson. Didn’t appear in any other Anderson films.
Anjelica Huston as Eleanor Zissou. The second of four Anderson appearances for Richard Harrow’s aunt.
2007: The Darjeeling Limited
Anjelica Huston as Patricia. We are now at three. 75% of the way there for Anjelica!
Natalie Portman as the ex-girlfriend of Schwartzman’s Jack. No, she never gets a name, and yes, Portman also appeared in the short film Hotel Chevalier, which aired before Darjeeling Limited, and no, she didn’t appear in any other Anderson films after that.
2009: Fantastic Mr. Fox
THE Meryl Streep voiced Felicity Fox, wife of the titular Mr. Fox. Possibly the first time a love interest of a George Clooney character has been played by an actress older than him? Possibly progress, but no, she didn’t provide a voice for or appear in any other Anderson films.
2012: Moonrise Kingdom
Frances McDormand as Mrs. Bishop, in her first Wes Anderson appearance, with a sort of no-nonsense, all-business mom vibe that brings to mind her Almost Famous performance. Don’t do drugs!
Tilda Swinton as Social Services, also in her first of a few Wes Anderson films, doing that government bureucrat/evil capitalist villain thing she does so well (see also her roles in Snowpiercer, the disappointing Terry Gilliam’s The Zero Theorem, and of course Okja for reference).
Kara Hayward as Suzy Bishop, daughter of Mrs. Bishop. Another hipster Halloween favorite, but I get it; Suzy is pretty great. And Hayward may be Anderson’s youngest repeat collaborator — she shows up again in Isle of Dogs.
2014: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Saoirse Ronan as Agatha, a character for whom a birthmark is character development. Wes Anderson pulls this twice for female characters; keep reading.
Tilda Swinton as Madame D., whose death sparks most of the film’s increasingly violent plot. Two of three now for Tilda. (Did Wes ask Schwartzman to call up Sofia to borrow one of the old Marie Antoinette wigs?)
Léa Seydoux as Clotilde. I honestly forgot she was in this movie. She has very little to do in it. It is unfortunate.
2018: Isle of Dogs, which has raised questions about its setting in Japan and yet may have the most female characters of any Anderson film, even if they fall into the same pattern:
Greta Gerwig voices teen journalist Tracy Walker. First time voicing a character/appearing in an Anderson film.
Frances McDormand voices Interpreter Nelson in her second Anderson appearance. (I’m wondering about the possibility of an inclusion rider here.)
Scarlett Johansson as Nutmeg. First time voicing a character/appearing in an Anderson film, but we already know from Her that she’s pretty damn good at this sort of thing.
Yoko Ono voices an assistant scientist named Yoko Ono. I really have nothing else to say about this.
Tilda Swinton voices the pug Oracle. Three’s a trend for Tilda.
Anjelica Huston voices “Mute Poodle.” Inside joke with Anderson, I guess? But also … what in the actual hell.
And finally, repeat young collaborator Kara Hayward as Peppermint, who gives birth to a litter of puppies and — wait for it — has a pink mark on her face. Kind of like Agatha’s in The Grand Budapest Hotel. How are you going to use this trick twice, Wes?!
I’m not writing this from a place of pure Anderson hatred, because I am often a sucker for his very specific kind of highly curated twee sentimentality, but come on, man. I have to nod at the fact that Huston, McDormand, and Swinton are multifaceted, masterful actresses who do great work in the Anderson movies they’re in. But yeah, maybe he should expand his horizons a little? Call up some more women? Maybe some of color? Open up his circle of collaborators so that it’s not just the buzzy white young actresses of the moment cycling through for one movie and that’s it? Anderson has a passionate fanbase who would probably be fine with this. Or at least I would be, and isn’t my happiness what matters?
[Header image courtesy of Getty Images]