Just forget the words and sing along

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Fishing in the Discount Bin - The Royal Tennenbaums

Welcome back to Fishing in the Discount Bin, my weekly gaze upon my movie library, where I watch a film and ask, "Why did I buy this one again?"  Today, we get to indie darling Wes Anderson's opus The Royal Tenenbaums.  This entry is originally dated September 9, 2012.

The Royal Tenenbaums is one of those films where my memories of seeing it are more vivid than the movie itself.  I touched upon it in a recent blog, and I'm toying with digging through the archives of my original blog and posting the link to the original entry I wrote in those early months of 2002.  A lot of that stuff in my original blog kind of embarrasses me now...I was so moody and introspective in those early years after college as I was trying to answer the question, "What do I do now?"  I guess that's just the price you pay with having consistently blogged you life for 13 years. 

Let me give you the Coles Notes.  So I decided to go to Japan and teach English as a second language, just like my best friend.  I had to fly out to Vancouver for the job interview.  After the interview, I met up with my best friend's girlfriend's best friend, and she and I just spend the rest of the day bumming around Vancouver.  We were going to go to this art gallery to see an exhibit on the blending of human and machine forms (which I interpreted as kick-ass cyborgs), but when we got to the gallery, we found that it was closed.  So she recommended seeing The Royal Tenenbaums instead.  She was a bit of a Wes Anderson fangirl, and had already seen it, but she really wanted to see it again.  So we went to see it.  What can I say?  In the small amount of truly good days I've had, it was one of the better ones.

Wes Anderson.  One of the last indie filmmakers to come out of the whole independent film movement of the 1990s.  Not only did his first film, Bottle Rocket, win all kinds of critical acclaim, but it also made the Wilson brothers, Owen and Luke, stars.  (They're both good friends of Anderson's.)  Anderson followed up with Rushmore, which was also much loved and helped Anderson break through to the mainstream.  And I must admit, I haven't seen either one.  I guess you could say I'm a casual fan of Anderson's work.  I've pretty much only seen The Royal Tenenbaums and The Life Aquatic, and that's about it.

But still, memories of that day, and seeing that The Royal Tenenbaums was finally released on Blu-Ray, made me think I should pick it up.  Besides, The Royal Tenenbaums is a Criterion release, and those always class up the movie library so nicely.

The Royal Tenenbaums is the saga of the Tenenbaum family.  Three child prodigies.  Ritchie Tenenbaum (Luke Wilson) was a tennis ace.  Chas Tenenbaum (Ben Stiller) is a financial wizard.  Adopted daughter Margot Tenenbaum (Gwynyth Paltrow) is a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright.  But they were child prodigies.  Now all in their early 30s, with their childhood glories behind them, they're in various stages of washed-up.  Ritchie had a very public meltdown and retired from tennis at age 26, and now spends his days living on a cruise ship.  Margot hasn't finished a play in 7 years, is trapped in a loveless marriage with a neurologist (Anderson regular Bill Murray), and is having an equally loveless affair with Ritchie's best friend Eli Cash (Owen Wilson).  And Chas lost his wife in a plane crash 6 months earlier and is becoming increasingly obsessed with his children's safety.  Their crises eventually lead them to moving back in with their mother.

But things really start when their asshole of a father, Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman), who walked out on their mother some 22 years earlier, also moves back home with a story about how he's dying of stomach cancer and wants to spend his last few weeks with his family. 

And now, with these very dysfunctional people in a very dysfunctional family all back together under one roof, it looks like they're on their way to some sort of catharsis. 

Wes Anderson is one of those directors with a very unique style.  It's always the most surreal of situations, with some very surreal dialogue, yet it's always delivered in this very deadpan, straightforward way.  This is reality to these people, and they treat it as such. 

The music score is very good, too.  Anderson's composer of choice is Mark Mothersbaugh, formerly of Devo, and the more I watch this film, the more I want this score.  It's such a quirky bit of music. 

(This is where I'd post some snippets of the score that I found on YouTube, but I'm not finding the cuts that I want to share.)

This film is very good.  it's fascinating to watch these characters finally work through their issues.  Of course, the anchor is Royal Tenenbaum.  It's interesting seeing him first con his way back into his family, and at first he tries to reconcile with his kids as part of the con, but eventually, his reconciliation switches to being genuine.  It's fun watching this old geezer finally take responsibility for his actions. 

"Quirky" doesn't begin to describe this film.  Most of its humour is a slow burn...there's very few laugh out loud moments, but more polite chuckles.  All in all, it's just a really good film, and trust me, it's very difficult to explain, so you should just watch it. 

And as for that best friend's girlfriend's best friend, her name pops up in my Facebook feed from time to time.  Apparently, she got married and moved to Australia.  She also worked in radio for a bit.  Neat. 

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