A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 582 – The Royal Tenenbaums

The Royal Tenenbaums – October 3rd, 2011

You know how you can tell this is a Wes Anderson movie? Because of every single thing in it, from the cast to the characters they play to the story they tell to the set dressing to the camera angles to the soundtrack and score to the titles and chapter cards. It is Wes Anderson from top to bottom. It would be impossible to see it and ascribe it to anyone else out there. I think the only thing missing from it is a panning shot of a diorama-type set. That’s it. It’s really very impressive.

This, like most Wes Anderson movies, is a story about a broken family full of miserable people. The mother is cool and calm and collected but somewhat aloof. The father is wild and unpredictable and has alienated the rest of the family. The kids are adults who have never really let go of their childhoods. The family comes together due to some sort of oddball scheme hatched up by one member or another and since even the best laid plans fall apart and these aren’t even close to the best, things go wrong and there are disasters and arguments and medical emergencies. Eventually, post-crisis or post-crises, there is reconciliation. Of course nothing ends up perfect, but the family comes through a little stronger and a little more aware of themselves and each other.

Yes, I am aware that I just described The Life Aquatic and Darjeeling Limited and even Fantastic Mr. Fox. Not so much with Rushmore, mostly because I don’t remember it well enough and I don’t recall being all that interested in watching it again. But really, that’s pretty much what Wes Anderson does now. That being said, the particulars are always different and I do enjoy his style, so I’m willing to allow for the same story being told over and over maybe two or three more times. We’ll see what Moonrise Kingdom holds next year. Maybe it will be something completely different! Maybe it won’t have the calm and collected mother. I don’t see Anjelica Huston on the cast list, so it’s possible. I do see Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman, however, so who knows. My point is that Wes Anderson is a very gifted storyteller and he has a knack of coming up with odd situations and combinations of characters and making movies that feel like they should be magical realism but aren’t. But he’s become predictable. Fortunately, when I went into this movie he wasn’t predictable yet.

The specifics here are about the Tenenbaum family. The family patriarch is a man named Royal. He’s shown with his family while the children are young, paying somewhat callous attention to the two boys and excluding his daughter. His daughter’s adopted, you see, and he makes certain to tell everyone. Eventually his wife kicks him out and he ends up living at a hotel, being cantankerous and certain he’s the aggrieved party. His children grow up and move away and their mother starts a new career. When Royal is kicked out of the hotel, he concocts a story about being deathly ill in order to convince his wife to let him move back in for a time. One by one the kids come back too until they’re all in the house together, dealing with their issues.

Many of said issues obviously stem from Royal and his relationship to the kids, though not all of them are since the kids started out somewhat idiosyncratic anyhow. Sister Margot has grown up isolated and ended up marrying a man many years her senior. Brother Richie is in love with Margot (it’s okay, she’s adopted, as the movie makes sure you know, over and over) but when she got married he had an epic meltdown in the middle of a tennis match, ending what was a promising pro tennis career. Brother Chas lost his wife in a plane crash and has become paranoid and neurotic about the safety of his two children ever since. They all come home and many of these issues come to a head very quickly. One theme in the movie is that the kids never really grew away from where they began. They move home and into their old rooms and deal with old rivalries. A friend of the family returns and unpleasant truths surface about everyone and it would be silly to go through it all in detail.

The characters in the movie are all these ridiculously quirky people who would seem goofy if they weren’t so miserable and trapped in their quirks. They’re not even super successful. Margot writes plays, but she hasn’t had one in years. Richie hasn’t played tennis since his meltdown and Chas is doing well financially but emotionally he’s a mess. They’re not perfect, which is what I enjoy about Wes Anderson’s characters. They are immensely flawed and interesting because of that not necessarily because of their quirks. They’re also played well. I like the entire cast in this movie. Even if I haven’t always liked them elsewhere, I enjoy them here. All of the kids seem so raw and all of the secondary cast seem so baffled at this bizarre family that is unlike anything else they know.

Wes Anderson tends to have a crisis situation where everyone suddenly has to get serious about what’s going on. In this movie there’s an attempted suicide. And it is striking, with bold colors and no uncertainty as to what’s just happened and why. And it does exactly what it’s meant to do, galvanizing the rest of the family. I will say, much like the other live action examples I can think of, it does not hold back. But more than the others, I find this one difficult to watch. Perhaps it’s that it’s not an accident. Perhaps it’s that it isn’t a death during an emergency. It is a purposeful thing, done by one person to himself and I think it hurts more because of that.

While it is true that one could pop in one of several Wes Anderson movies and see much the same story, enacted by much the same cast, with many of the same quirks and signature notes, I don’t really mind. It would be nice to see him turn out something different and not just keep rehashing this one over and over. Much as I enjoy both The Life Aquatic and Darjeeling Limited and much as I adore Anderson’s version of The Fantastic Mr. Fox, I have to wonder why the same story? He got it right here, as far as I’m concerned.

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October 3, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , ,

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