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It’s winter, and it’s cold, so I resolve to make some hot chocolate. I’m alone in my house’s normally bustling kitchen. My socks glide me across the floor to the pantry, and I grab cocoa mix and slide back to grab a mug. As I open the cabinet, a thought strikes me: what if this sock-skating scene was a Wes Anderson film? 

I close the cabinet, and when I touch my fingers to open it again, the imaginary camera starts rolling. Action! This time, I swing both doors open with calculated velocity, and my left and right limbs mirror each other precisely. I pause, and my hand confidently grabs a mug with some French words on it, placing it squarely on the counter in a continuous motion. I let the porcelain plunk resonate in my ears and the room, before taking soldier steps to the cylindrical tin of cocoa mix.

I let my eyes become the camera — I arch my head over the golden container so that its symmetrical geometry can be in the foreground of the shot. I twist off the lid with gusto, and straighten my arm to its fullest extent to set it back down. I take out the measuring spoon, and mechanically rotate my wrist to scoop, and again to spill the powder into the mug. My eyes watch the brown powder softly clump at the bottom. I repeat this action, and then lift my arm up to be perpendicular with my torso to pour milk into the cup.

I pick up the mug, place it into the microwave, extend a single finger to press the “2” button — a detail shot — and then the machine whirs to life. I stare at the digital countdown clock intently as it descends 1:59 to 1:58 to 1:57, because this might mean something important later on. I walk away from the microwave and sit down, with my elbows forming a right angle between my forearm and the rest of my limb. Cut. Scene!


The most recent Wes Anderson movie, “The French Dispatch” (2021), profiles a European outpost of a fictional midwestern newspaper, the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun, and the various articles the reporters write out of their fictional French town, Ennui-sur-Blasé. The movie presents three vignettes, all concerning different topics and magazine sections (art, protest and food) that are played out for viewers as its respective reporter narrates. 

I watched this movie a few days before my dramatic hot cocoa making scene, where I felt compelled to mimic the shots and movements of the characters I saw in the theater. 

For those unfamiliar, Anderson is a director and screenplay writer who is widely recognized for his visual and narrative cinematic fingerprint. Distinctive aspects of his films include their satisfying color palettes, symmetrical shots (often overhead), long panoramas across a scene and profile shots in the center of the visual. 

The visual satisfaction this style achieves has become popular enough to the point where Anderson’s name has become synonymous with his style, morphing from a proper noun into a descriptive adjective: “This train station is so Wes Anderson!”

A few days after my kitchen interpretation of the Anderson aesthetic, I drove to Michigan’s west side with two friends, making tourist stops on the way to my parents’ home. Upon seeing a bright white church, its double doors painted a fire-engine red, my friend walked up the steps, touched the brass handles and pantomimed opening them simultaneously. She looked back and exclaimed, “It’s like I’m in a Wes Anderson film!” The rest of us laughed, looked up at the historic spire and agreed. If we squinted, we were on a movie set, playing ourselves, putting on a show for the world to see.

It’s this combination of the visually satisfying and the publicly popular that allows the Instagram account @accidentallywesanderson to flourish. Abbreviated AWA, its profile is full of centered foregrounds and symmetrical rooflines, colorful walls and coordinated landscapes, any of which could arguably be the background to a Wes Anderson film. Started as a side project by Wally Koval in 2017, the account has since amassed 1.6 million followers, and the project’s first book was published in seven languages. 

At first glance, the project’s print and internet presences are simply a travel guide, a grid of exotic places that feel oceans away, like the Bernese Alps, or ones that just feel it, like an elementary school in Detroit. The blank space within the Instagram photo grid, however, has served as inspiration and potential additions for the photographers that have become a part of this growing “community of explorers.” With new photos being posted multiple times a week, it begs the question: is my environment worthy of a Wes Anderson movie? Can my life, here in Ann Arbor, be cinematized? 

And so, encouraged by AWA’s submit page on his website, I took out my camera, shot from the hip, and sought to capture moments that would make the case for a visually compelling life. An Anderson Arbor cinematic universe.

The result, then, was a color-hungry bike ride around the outskirts of campus, under the backdrop of a rainy April Sunday. I left my home in Kerrytown by bike, wearing a rain jacket and carrying my ever-deteriorating smartphone, hoping to find moments that made me feel like I was somewhere else. 

Before I had even departed, I saw a white house across the street with crisp blue trim. I snapped some photos, hoping that I looked kind and naive enough to not be considered a criminal. A right down Thayer Street, and more photos. This is so easy! I made knots around Kerrytown, feeling like I lived in an AWA paradise.

That is, until I looked at the photos themselves. A parked car blocked the view of the front porch. Last weekend’s solo cups littered on the lawn. The large-print phone numbers and landlord logos next to every front door. How could I feel like I was traveling when clues of my location were spilled on the grass? Where else in the world would you see a 734 area code? 

It was these giveaways that caused me to raise my standards. From now on, the houses I photographed would be timeless. The buildings would be bold. The signs of life that surrounded them would be small and meticulous, and frames would be clean, like someone had touched the landscape with a Lysol wipe.

I felt I had found my first real victory at 809 Kingsley St. By this point, I had about seven other houses on the list in my phone’s notes app, but this building was special. Meticulous brickwork, dotted with colored tile motifs like sweet eye candy. Arches lined the top of the façade above the windows, and a grand one welcomed you in the building’s cool green door.

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I got off my bike and stood, squarely facing the path to the front entrance. I moved my smart phone down near my hips, clicked the side button to take a photo. It was all going swimmingly until a young man opened the cool green door, and started walking down the path. How dare he, a careless resident, ruin my shot! I could have channeled my inner Anderson, motioning him to move quickly so I could restart the photo shoot, but without award winning films on my résumé to back me up, I felt skittish. I quickly jumped onto my bike and rode around the block, for I had been caught in the act. I continued down Kingsley.

I passed by monochrome geometries and pristine purples, and stopped traffic to take a photo of Zingerman’s from the back. I zigzagged through the traffic lights before I was firmly outside of student housing’s reach. This is where the sights picked up. A handsome two story, with a pitched roof and a thoughtful zest of orange trim. Its attic window would be a perfect frame for a Bill Murray’s face. I wrote down the address, take a photo and move on. 

Down on Fourth Street, I encountered a church I’d seen before but had never stopped to stare at. It’s called Bethel A.M.E. Church, and the dark lettering over the front double doors announces its birth year, all the way back in 1891. The outside is painted a soothing pastel lavender, and above the warm stained glass windows are its mauve eyebrows, arched in surprise. I felt that I had found a treasure, tucked within the everyday tedium of my life.

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Despite this genuine aesthetic pleasure, I did feel quite odd playing the role of landscape-curator. Irked by the trees that blocked the window face, or a child’s play kitchen in the front lawn, I leaned into the persona of a cranky senior citizen, but without the life experience to justify it. I hand-picked only the cream of the crop, and my rubric for what was better and what was worse was based on some 50-year-old director’s imagination. And I enjoyed it, enthralled by geometrically precise pastels, taking photos on my bike with a smile on my face.

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Returning to my gravel driveway, I thought about the sights of the day like old friends I would one day reunite with. The brutalist brown grid of the apartments on Tappan Avenue, or the historic arches of the Clements Library. I think I’ll look at them differently now, tilting my head to find the symmetries, imagining the silhouettes of movie stars gazing out the window. I go to the kitchen to prepare a warm drink, elderberry tea this time instead of hot cocoa, and open the door to my bedroom. 

It’s a mess, my floor layered with the past few days of life and its artifacts, my window blinds hastily drawn. But it has promise. Perhaps if I cleaned it up a bit, put some colorful sheets on my bed, and centered the frame around the oversized windows, my set design would be worthy of an Academy Award. 

I set down my tea cup and think about peering at it from above. Seeing the swirling liquid in a colorful mug, accented by the drawings on my desk, perhaps my life would look like a famous director’s movie. I resist the urge, though, and instead look at the quaint peaks of laundry upon my bed, and the not-quite-symmetrical corner of art tacked to the wall. I sip my drink in satisfaction, taking the view in, knowing it’s my own.

Statement Columnist Oscar Nollette-Patulski can be reached at