Friday, March 9, 2012
Day 100: The Royal Tenenbaums
"This illness, this closeness to death, it's had a profound effect on me. I feel like a different person, I really do."
"Dad, you were never dying."
"But I'm gonna live!"
"Why would a reviewer make a point of saying someone's not a genius? Do you especially think I'm not a genius?"
"I'm sorry for your loss. Your mother was a terribly attractive woman."
"How long have you been a smoker?"
"Well, I think you should quit."
"That's a hell of a damn grave. I wish it were mine."
I could literally write an entire review of just quotes of this film. For my 100th review, I've decided to take a look at one of the absolute best films ever made, Wes Anderson's The Royal Tenenbaums. There's an odd phenomenon that's not exclusive to Wes Anderson, but it's certainly prevalent throughout his career, and that is that his films are best appreciated only after multiple viewings. I covered this phenomenon in my review of Bottle Rocket, but as I said there, I've come to love his films more after watching them again, but The Royal Tenenbaums is the only one that I loved right away. From about 30 seconds into the film, I was hooked, and while I've come to basically have the entire film memorized, I've been enamored with this film since my first viewing.
It doesn't hurt that it features probably my favorite actor, Gene Hackman, in what is arguably his best performance. Hackman plays the eponymous patriarch of an eccentric family of geniuses that peaked when the children were young, and the parents divorced. Twenty-five years later, the family is now spread out across New York City, but wind up living together in the house they were raised in for various reasons. The plot is intricate and almost impossible to explain (I've tried twice now, and deleted my synopsis both times), and I figure if you're reading this, you've probably seen it already. Actually, if we're friends, I would hope you've seen it.
Let's start with the script. It's incredible. It's one of the best scripts ever written, and if you get a chance to read the script, I would recommend it (a copy can be found here). Anderson is an incredible director (whether you like his style or not, you have to admit that the guy knows how to direct a movie), but his work as a writer is as detailed as his visual style. His subsequent partnerships with writers like Noah Baumbach have been good, but nothing has equaled his work with Owen Wilson both on this film and Rushmore. The eccentricities of the characters seems to be honestly scaled back by the work that Wilson does, as the characters in his other films seem almost unwieldy in their quirks.
The cast of this film is phenomenal. I have no reservations in saying that it's the best work of almost everyone's career: Ben Stiller, Gwenyth Paltrow, Luke & Owen Wilson, and Danny Glover all give career best performances. Bill Murray & Anjelica Houston have been better in other films (Rushmore & Prizzi's Honor respectively) but they're no less fantastic here than they are anywhere else. Even the smaller characters are great, like the kids that play Ari & Uzi and Dudley, Seymour Cassel and of course, my favorite, Kumar Pallana as Pagoda. The relationship between Royal & Pagoda is the sweetest relationship in the entire film. And of course, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the fantastic narration by Alec Baldwin.
Believe it or not, there are people that don't like this film. I was working at Blockbuster when this film was released on video, and I stopped recommending it to people because it's not a film for everyone. Most people don't like to think of their families as dysfunctional, and these people don't want to see themselves reflected on screen. Now granted, these are some pretty extreme examples of dysfunction, but all of these characters are highly relatable. I imagine that Richie ends up being the most relatable character for most people, although, oddly enough, I've always connected the most with Margot, but everyone who's honest with themselves will see a little bit of all of these characters in their own families.
Royal's journey to save his family from "the wreckage of a destroyed sinking battleship" is an incredible one. The journeys of all of these characters, their growth as people and as a family, is some of the best that's ever been put on film. This film is a masterpiece of microcosm. People who get hung up on the stylistic flourishes are missing the forest for the trees. This is a beautiful film that ages like a fine wine, becoming more poignant and hysterical with each subsequent viewing. If you didn't get it, or didn't like it the first time you saw it, I would strongly urge you to watch it again.
Don't concern yourself with the busyness of the art direction and costume design, just let the film wash over you and drink in the incredible dialogue. I guarantee you'll find yourself quoting the film the next day, and before you know it, you'll want to watch it again, and then, and only then, have you finally given yourself over to the true genius of Wes Anderson. You just need to give yourself time to catch up to him.