Sunday, 16 August 2009

Royal Tenenbaum bought the house on Archer Avenue in the winter of his 35th year.

No 159 - The Royal Tenenbaums
Director - Wes Anderson

This is my favourite film. I really ruddy love it. I'm going to try and explain what it is about this film that I love so much and why I think it is a truly wondrous cinematic experience, both poignant and funny, and how it shoes a real human dynamic in a twisted version of the world.

I am very fond of Wes Anderson's directorial and story telling style, and I think the reason I hold this film in such high esteem is that it was the first of his films that I saw.

Wes Anderson's films share a visual style, they also share similar story elements (dysfunctional families and relationships, father issues). Therefore, once you have seen one of the films, you get an idea about what to expect in future films.
I once discussed this with my former flatmate Phil. His favourite Wes Anderson film was Rushmore, whilst mine is this one. However our reasons for liking the films were identical. We both liked our preferred films because they were the first Wes Anderson films we'd seen.

Let me try to explain what I love about this film. But please excuse my utterly biased opinion.
Firstly, I love the world which Wes Anderson has created. It is not a fantasy world but the film is a fantasy - by which I mean it is not based in our reality. This a world which is locked in a permanent 1970s. In which the taxi cabs are battered and held together with gaffa tape and in which lurid patterns and bright colours are the obvious choice for decorating with. The characters also fall into this subversion of real life. Too many of the characters in the film seem unreal. Their appearances border on cartoony (see Chas and his two identical children, or Margot with her wooden finger). However their stories are incredibly deep, their emotions complex. They might live in a subtle parody of humanity but these are deeply hurt, deeply flawed and deeply human personalities.

It is helped by the phenomenal cast. The film itself is told as if it was a book (narrated by the sumptuous tones of Mr Alec Baldwin), with a prologue and chapters and with an introduction to the cast before the film properly begins (as a 'list of characters'). The film mixes people who are Wes Anderson regulars (Owen and Luke Wilson, Bill Murray, Anjelica Huston) with excellent actors who are not from Wes Anderson's regular comic cast (Gene Hackman and Gwyneth Paltrow being the key examples).

Not only is the cast superb, but the film and characters seem to bring out the best in the actor's performances. Let me talk about some of the characters in this film.

Firstly, the comedy double act of Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson. I am a massive fan of Zoolander. It is so hot right now. The characters of Derek Zoolander and Hansel are career best roles for Stiller and Wilson. However Chas Tenenbaum and Eli Cash are close contenders. They play to the strengths of the actors in question, and are also the best examples of roles they have played so many times before.

Firstly, Eli Cash - A spaced out, drugged up semi hippy. His speech is full of 'woah' and his delivery is slow and laconic. Look at almost every role Owen Wilson has been cast in. This is a re-occurring series of traits, however they have never been done as well as Eli Cash. I think this is largely down to Owen Wilson co-writing the film and therefore knowing what works for him.

Secondly, Chas Tenenbaum - Stressed out, a ball of rage and fury. Sounds familiar? For the majority of the film I find Chas really annoying. In the same way that I find all of Ben Stiller's 'Angry Man' comedy annoying. However, where he is different is that Chas is a deeply disturbed and multi faceted character. He is dealing with the death of his wife (and subsequently seems to have both safety paranoia and survivors guilt), he is dealing with the feeling that his father doesn't like him and is jealous of the relationship between his father and his younger brother.

That is a big old melting pot of complex emotions, and Chas can't seem to handle or contain his emotions. He spends most of the film repressed, lashing out in occasional fits of rage and generally acting a bit like a childish cock.

However, he is a very important character. Whilst Richie Tenenbaum may have the most important story arc for the plot (more about him later), Chas Tenenbaum has the most important personal story arc. It is a touching series of scenes as we see Chas come to terms with his grief and his pain and finally his father.

The next character I want to talk about is Margot Tenenbaum. I quite like Gwyneth Paltrow, though she may not be the most remarkable of actresses - Saying that, Sliding Doors is a fabulously guilty pleasure of mine - but I all out LOVE Margot Tenenbaum. I have a bit of a crush for her. I don't know if it is the wonderful combo of tiny poloshirt style dresses and big fur coats (an outfit she has worn since birth it seems), the fact that she is such a grumpy bad ass, the promiscuous history she hides, the wooden finger. There are so many elements to her character that makes her fascinating and somewhat desirable.

I am not the only one that finds Margot appealing.

Eli is in love with her.

Eli seems to be a bit of a bootie call. However as he gets more wasted he tires of her and moves away. Specially when he realises who she loves.

Walter St Clair is in love with her

Walter is a genuinely tragic character. Margot's second husband knows that something is wrong and (rightly) suspects that Margot loves someone else. He endures the pain of having your love lock herself away, spending six hours a day in the bath. When Margot leaves to reside in the Tenenbaum household, Walter's hurt is clear on the hangdog face of depression that Bill Murray does so well.

Wes Anderson loves Bill Murray (after supporting roles in this and Rushmore, Anderson promised Murray the lead in his next film.) and this is clear in the film. Bill Murray's character may be a small role but it is an excellent performance gotten from a clearly devoted director.


Richie Tenenbaum loves Margot

This love affair is a pivotal part of the plot as it sparks off a lot of the key set pieces for the film. Not only does Richie love Margot, Margot loves Richie. However their relationship is somewhat hampered by the fact that
  • She is married
  • She is Richie's sister (adopted....)

Richie is horrifically depressed. His inability to handle his feelings. gives the film some of it's bleakest moments.

Firstly, the footage of a tennis game the day after Margot and Walter marry. He slowly has a breakdown, removing his shoes and one of his socks before sitting down on the court and bursting into tears.

Secondly, his attempted suicide. This is a naturally disturbing scene and is interestingly filmed completely differently from the rest of the film.
Horrified by hearing about the number of affairs and secrets Margot has hidden, Richie goes to the bathroom, cuts his hair, his beard, his wrists. Firstly the film breaks away from the rich colours and complex patterns which make up most of the film and offers only a stark blue light, giving the scene a cold and clinical feel. Secondly the scene is in fractured moments rather than a continuous narrative.
The pretentious part of me wants to say that the fractured structure matches the fractured nature of Richie's mind and it is true that after his suicide he becomes a lot more zen. However his attempted suicide leads me to the final (and in my opinion most depressing) part of the entire film.

Margot and Richie's resolution. The two sit in Richie's tent and discuss his suicide attempt. They declare their love for each other. They kiss. They hold each other. It is beautiful and poignant because the two can never publicly act on their feelings and are instead left with a depressing ultimatum.
I think we're just gonna to have to be secretly in love with each other and leave it at that, Ritchie.
The fact that the tent is in the ballroom, which houses Richie's art collection (a continuous shrine to Margot....) makes it all the more tragic,

After that little rundown of Richie's moments, it may be hard to believe that this is a comedy. Alternatively - the trailer sells the film as a lot more outright comedic than it is (however... they always struggle at marketing this type of thing). The film is a comedy but it is subtle and it finds comedy in the recesses and ridiculousness of tragedy. It isn't the easiest film to watch but by jove it is a stunning film.

So... they are the 'youth' of the Royal Tenenbaums. Let us look at the mighty Royal Tenenbaum and the sheer bastardness he displays.
Unexplained infidelities lead to the separation of Royal and his wife (though they never legally divorced). He then finds himself kicked out of his hotel. This is a tragic affair because it is a hotel populated by Flight of the Conchords minor roles!
Firstly the hotel manager (who kicks out Royal) is none other than the long suffering Greg (aka Frank Wood)!
Secondly, Dusty the lift operator is Seymour Cassel, who - as Johnny Boy - is the oldest member of the Tough Brets.

So, with no where to live, Royal fakes cancer (with Dusty posing as a Dr) and moves into the Tenenbaum home where he tries to refriend his children and destroy the blossoming (and really quite sweet) relationship between his wife and her new fiance, Heny Sherman. Poor Henry. Not only does he get embroiled in all the kerfuffle of this family reunion but he also has to face the passive aggressive racism from Royal.

Whilst the racism bit is obviously bad. Don't forget he is pretending to have CANCER in order to get a free roof over his head and a free meal. Royal is not a nice man (despite being a fantastically jovial bad influence on his grand kids).

All this changes when he isn't allowed to see Richie at hospital. His family have finally shut him out once and for all and he sees he has to change his ways.
Royal makes an attempt to be more kind and observant. Caring for Chas and his children and finally allowing a divorce so that Henry Sherman can marry his ex.
This kindness causes Chas to have his breakdown and allow the two to finally forgive and forget.

The film begins with the family all together but falling apart. Royal being the brash and blunt catalyst in the families bitterness and deterioration. However the film ends with everyone as reconciled as possible (some things, such as Richie and Margot's relationship are never reconciled fully) brought together as a family by Royal's death.

And the final shot is of Royal's wonderful epitaph.


PhilH said...

I might have to watch this again today. And then maybe Rushmore as well.

Like you, this is my first, and so favourite, Wes Anderson film. Though I have a soft spot for The Life Aquatic too, as it is the first Anderson film I saw in the cinema.

Captain James Amazing said...

By the time Life Aquatic came out I was in pure love with Tenenbaums.

For that reason I was so excited by the dirst shot with the sans serif text in the corner of that painting. It was such a quintessential Wes Anderson shot and at that sizw it gave me goosebumps.

Love it