Saturday, September 3, 2011
The Royal Tenenbaums
I will admit right off the bat, the filmography of Wes Anderson was an acquired taste for me. A friend of mine, as far back as High School loved "Rushmore" while I was rather meh on it. I didn't get it, I didn't appreciate it. That has changed, and I may write a blog entry on "Rushmore" some time, but tonight I am focusing on Anderson's magnum opus, "The Royal Tenenbaums."
With "The Royal Tenenbaums," Wes Anderson turns his lens to the American family, and all the drama that can entail. The Tenenbaums are a dysfunctional family, the parents have been separated for decades, and Royal (Gene Hackman) is a disbarred attorney who has long since moved out of the family's enormous town house. The children, all geniuses and overachievers in their own way, are then raised by Etheline (Angelica Houston), an archeologist. Chas (Ben Stiller) is a financial wizard; Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow), is adopted and was a published playwright at 11; and Richie (Luke Wilson) is a tennis prodigy. We are given the family history at the start of the film, then are introduced to the family twenty-two years later. Chas is still a financial wizard, but, having lost his wife in a plane accident is now the paranoid father of two small sons. Margot is married to Raleigh St. Clair (Bill Murray), is depressed and hasn't written in years; and Richie, after having a nervous breakdown on the tennis court a couple of years earlier is traveling the world by boat. Still hanging around is Eli (Owen Wilson) a long time family friend from across the street who is now a literature professor and successful novelist. Etheline is being wooed by her accountant, Henry (Danny Glover) and when Royal gets wind of this, he embarks on a bid to win his family back after not speaking with them for years.
Wes Anderson has an unusual style of film making that has been static throughout his career. Highly theatrical, almost in the style of a play, he presents the story of the Tenenbaums to us as if it were taken directly from a novel, so much so that if you were to read the few sentences that are visible in the book that accompanies the beginning of each "chapter" you would see that the written narrative follows the action to the letter.
Anderson favors primary colors, and characters that are identifiable by very distinct appearances. Chas and his sons have their red track suits they always wear, Margot wears the clip in her hair, Izod dresses from the 80's and dark eyeliner surrounding her eyes, Richie wears the sweatband around his head, Eli is in cowboy gear and Raleigh looks like a Freud knockoff. One of the results is that there are varying degrees of recognition for the actor in "real life." When seeing Raleigh, it's easy to forget that it is Bill Murray, and Margot for that matter is so different from how we are used to seeing Paltrow.
Anderson also favors point of view shots, characters looking directly at or addressing the camera, and is also one of the few modern masters in the use of music. The soundtrack to 'The Royal Tenenbaums' features some classic songs (Ruby Tuesday, Hey Jude) but also has some obscure tracks that are bizarre and fit the scene beautifully.
'The Royal Tenenbaums' has a phenomenal cast, and all of the actors are excellent in the film. I get the strong impression that, since Anderson isn't a mainstream film director, A-list actors sign up to work for him because of his alternative vision and his obvious talent.
Coming from a "broken home" I can relate to the high dysfunction of the Tenenbaums as an adult and embrace the story beyond the presentation, despite its highly stylized format. "The Royal Tenenbaums" is a brilliant film that is both emotional and eye-catching, and truly cements Wes Anderson as a talented filmmaker.
The black comedy counterbalanced with the drama of the issues raised in this film left me feeling like I'd witnessed a film event, rather than just another film. I loved every frame of it, from the Alec Baldwin narrated opening, to the final tying up of ends. It never dwelled on melodrama, or the more potentially unsavory elements, and it didn't sink into the schmaltzy "We all love each other" end it could well have. It began perfectly, and it ended perfectly.
I can't recommend this movie more highly. It's a must see for anyone who loves quirky and emotive storytelling, great characters and beautiful dialogue.
The family really reminds me of the family from "Franny and Zooey" (terrific book by the way, totally worth reading). All the people in it are slightly dark and pretentious, and they were all famous at a young age only to have their family torn apart by death and dysfunctionality.
"The Royal Tenenbaums" is one of those movies that you will either get, or you won't. I can totally see why people wouldn't though. It's an extremely slow movie and the comedy is targeted at a generally small audience, many of the characters are unlikable if you don't like the comedy portrayed by them. It's very niche. Very subtle, very tongue in cheek. If you're the type of person who thinks "Mrs. Doubtfire" or "Napoleon Dynamite" are good comedy, you will probably not like this.
I loved this film. Wry, poignant and beautifully understated.