Coming-of-age stories are one of the most overused archetypes in Hollywood: familiar, relatable and uplifting. In other words, it’s a proven formula that works. So when Wes Anderson revealed that his second feature film was going to follow that outline after Bottle Rocket bombed at the box office, I’m sure his producers were thrilled.
They might’ve been less enthusiastic when they read the script and found that the hero fakes injuries to try and win the heart of the woman he loves (one of the teachers at his school, nonetheless) and when his best friend starts dating that woman, he jealously tries to cut the brakes on his friend’s car. How are people supposed to get behind this guy if he’s trying to take us to all of these dark places?
The simple answer is that we have all been to those places before, because part of growing up is learning to cope with the injustices that life throws at you without succumbing to our worst impulses. That’s why we forgive the protagonist when he tries to exact terrible revenge on the friend who betrayed him. We’ve all felt that way before, only most of us haven’t acted on it.
You see, Anderson does adhere to the coming-of-age formula: he just does it in his unique, off-brand sort of way.