by Chris Parry
It takes a certain kind of person to get where Wes Anderson is coming from. There's a deliberate, almost balletic quality to his work that runs through everything from the music, the staging, the performances, the humor and the dialogue, which anyone who has obsessed over the making of a film can only appreciate immensely. Even the opening frames of The Royal Tenenbaums feature this tinge of theater and that unique, original cinematic styling serves to Anderson's film interesting even during times when the story may lag. The humor is dark, sophisticated and quirky, and the results have been some of the most memorable comedy films of the last ten years. The Royal Tenenbaums is the peak of this prowess.Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman) is a cad. He raised three genius children, but he's still a cad. An attorney who has fallen on hard times, mostly because he was sued by his financial whizkid son Chas (Ben Stiller), disbarred and briefly imprisoned, he's about to be kicked out of his hotel room without a cent to his name. His family, who haven't spoken to him in years, aren't too keen to break with old habits and bring him back into the fold, at least until Royal decides to pretend that he's dying of cancer.
"The blooming of one of American cinemas more promising directorial careers"
Forced back together out of circumstance, the three children, Chas, playwright genius Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow) and tennis champion Richie (Luke Wilson), as well as their archeologist mother Eveline (Anjelica Huston), struggle to come to terms not just with their new roommate, but also their own inner quirks, demons and particular brand of genius.
But to hell with the story, because that's secondary in a Wes Anderson film (though far from neglected). What is of paramount importance are the characters, the humor and the ambience of the piece.
Anderson takes things a step further, miring his cast in a sort of 70's time warp, which was the time when their 'genius' was heralded by the masses. As time has passed, their genius has faded, and their styles (Chas' Adidas tracksuit and Richie's Bjorn Borg tennis gear being standouts) have failed to keep up with the modern day.
With a cast including names like Hackman, Huston, Wilson I, Wilson II, Stiller, Paltrow, Bill Murray, Danny Glover, even character actors like Seymour Cassel, and narrator Alec Baldwin, even the most middling screenplay would surely get a few kicks upstairs simply from the wow factor of those involved.
Ands so it should. Each of these characters has their own story, or even stories, each of them is funny in their own way, and each of them could potentially have been the main character in this piece without losing any of the pacing, meaning or appeal.
In keeping with Anderson's love of the theater and classic film, each character in the film is assigned a musical instrument with which their scenes are scored, a la Peter and the Wolf. The opening sequences, which spend a good quarter hour giving the sort of in-depth backstory that opens things with a bang, are a direct homage to The Magnificent Ambersons (not Kubrick, as certain people have asserted). But these influences are not restricted to works from the early 20th century - music from The Ramones punctuates one montage scene, and a scene in which Bill Murray's character performs an experiment on a mentally messed up kid is a nod to a similar scene in Murray's breakout film Ghostbusters.
Look, it's easy to make a movie. We can say "Hey, Commando got me hard and Arnold was cool - five stars!", or we can recognise that cranking out the same old cookie cutter formulas is really not filmmaking at all; rather, it's large scale content production. A film like this, one with nuances and reason and hidden meaning and humor that doesn't light up a big red light that says "laugh now" takes hard work, intelligence and patience, on both the filmmaker's and audience's part. If you're not up to the challenge, then feel free to go rent Freddy vs Jason.
Wes Anderson has created his own inimitable style, which while it might borrow from other filmmakers (honestly, what filmmaker doesn't?), it has over the course of Bottle Rocket, Rushmore and this film become one of the most recognisable, easy to appreciate and successful stylings in modern day cinema. A Wes Anderson film is a challenge in every way, and that is why I will devote my time and money to paying for a ticket whenever he has a new film on the market.Bravo. More please.
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originally posted: 03/04/04 22:41:11