TikTok's Wes Anderson trend: why the quirky director's style is ripe for social media parody
Three weeks ago, during a habitual morning scroll through social media, I kept coming across highly stylised video montages of people going about their every day lives.
In one video, a man documented himself working in his wood shop. The title card read: “The shop. 5:30pm (PST)”. Quick cutting shots moved between carefully organised close ups of his tools on his workbench to others of him donning various safety equipment before going about his woodwork.
This vignette is part of a trend started by Ava Williams, who posted a video of a train journey from Connecticut to New York in the style of the idiosyncratic director.
The short, 24-second video features a number of tropes which are instantly recognisable to anyone familiar with Anderson’s style. There’s the whimsical music of Alexandre Desplat (specifically Obituary, taken from Anderson’s 2021 film, The French Dispatch), symmetrical framing and the blank expression of performers, to name just a few.
Williams’ video created a TikTok trend that has led to a renewed online interest in Anderson’s work as amateurs online Anderson-ify their families, their journeys and more.
The Anderson look and sound
Wes Anderson emerged from Houston, Texas with his modestly budgeted first feature, Bottle Rocket. Starring the three Wilson brothers – Owen (Anderson’s university roommate), Luke and Andrew, the film follows a group of friends planning to pull off a robbery and go on the run.
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His sophomore film, Rushmore, gained the director greater recognition and was the first of numerous collaborations with actors Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman. It was, however, 2001’s The Royal Tenenbaums that earned Anderson an Oscar nomination for best original screenplay.
Despite the lukewarm critical reception to his two excellent mid-2000s films, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and The Darjeeling Limited, Anderson’s career has been on somewhat of an upward swing over the past decade. Moonrise Kingdom (2012) was in competition for the coveted Palme D’or award at the Cannes film festival and The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) was honoured with an Oscar nomination for best picture.
His original circle of on and off-screen collaborators – Murray, Wilson, writing partner Roman Coppola and the cinematographer Robert Yeoman – still remain. But with each film, Anderson widens his circle, drawing in up-and-comers such as Maya Hawke and Timothée Chalamet, as well as established stars like Bruce Willis and Ralph Fiennes.
The work of Wes Anderson is distinct in its look, feel and sound. There is something about this that has made his style so appealing to TikTok creators over his many other acclaimed contemporaries, such as Paul Thomas Anderson or Noah Baumbach.
Anderson’s films look unlike almost anything being released today. The shots are often (but not always) static, with characters and objects positioned centrally, creating a heightened sense of symmetry and mathematical precision.
The colour palette of his films tends to be exaggerated. Think the lush reds of the Budapest Hotel’s interior or the vibrant underwater seascapes from The Life Aquatic.
Actions and gestures are regularly performed towards the camera in a highly organised tableau. His films frequently feature slow motion sequences, which are often accompanied by musical deep cuts of popular European rock and pop acts from the 1960s and 1970s.
These elements create a fantastical, often childlike atmosphere to the worlds he creates. The film academic James MacDowell has noted that Anderson’s films encourage “a sense of wonder at a childlike aesthetic of the orderly and the miniature”. This sense is intensified by the fact that many of his films include or revolve around either children or immature adult characters.
Most importantly, this style has remained more or less consistent since the start of his career. This isn’t something he’s adopted for one film, but is instead a recurring and expected feature of each film he directs.
Though he rarely provides a cameo appearance à la Alfred Hitchcock, Anderson’s fingerprints are all over his work and recognisable even to casual viewers.
A natural TikTok aesthetic
For TikTok users, and online content creators more broadly, a recognisable personality or style is important currency. If choosing to imitate the style of a director, who better than one whose work is also immediately recognisable?
It also makes sense that Anderson’s recent films resonate with the younger TikTok demographic, many of whom make fan edits (amateur and unofficial film footage of celebrities taken by a fan) of actors featured in his movies, such as Chalamet.
TikTok isn’t the first video-focused social media platform, just the most recent. But it crucially allows users not just to tweet or post about Anderson’s style, or share photographs which mimic his aesthetic, but fully imitate the style of his films in a short-form audio-visual medium.
These Anderson-style TikToks may not fully engage with the tonal complexities of his feature-length work, but are able to easily imitate their visual style at a basic level.
Like all online trends, the longevity of this current fascination with Anderson’s style remains to be seen. This trend comes just ahead of the release of his latest feature, Asteroid City, a sci-fi comedy set in a fictional US desert town.
It’s been given a prime slot in this summer’s release schedule and stars Anderson’s most dizzingly eclectic ensemble yet – Tom Hanks, Scarlett Johannsson, Ed Norton and Margot Robbie are just a few of the 21 names adorning the film’s poster. With this film’s imminent release, the attraction to his work shows no immediate signs of slowing.
Tom Hemingway does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.