The Brothers Bloom immediately challenges its audience to not think of Wes Anderson: Rian Johnson’s sophomore feature (after Brick) barrels out of the gate with a kinetic, Ricky Jay–narrated montage describing the formative years of a pair of young siblings seemingly hatched into the world as fully formed con artists complete with snazzy, old-fashioned dark suits and top hats. Out of all the young American directors who’ve made household names for themselves in the past decade, Anderson has been the strongest influence on contemporary cinema and television, from the patented parenthetical flashbacks and asides that have become the go-to “surprise” jokes of smart-aleck faves Arrested Development and The Family Guy, to the thrift-store-disaster-as-uniform costuming (better known as “geek chic”) so successfully pilfered by watered-down wannabes Napoleon Dynamite and Juno. And Anderson casts an enormous shadow on The Brothers Bloom, with its opening uncannily reminiscent of that of The Royal Tenenbaums, brimming with deadpan line deliveries, storybook preciousness, and a nostalgia for an edenic youth or childlike state that’s since been disillusioned into the melancholia of walking wounded adulthood.
Judged by this beginning, The Brothers Bloom appears to be just another derivative of a supposedly more sincere auteur’s signature style, one that seems to bring out in its imitators only the superficial and fashion-oriented. But then something happens—The Brothers Bloom displays a narrative and visual wit all its own.