Monday, December 28, 2009

Top Ten Films Of The Decade: Number 5: The Royal Tenenbaum's




-“Died tragically rescuing his family from a sinking battleship.”-

Anderson’s films to one extent or another are all about people desperate to be better. Think of Herman Blume surveying the ruins of his life from the top of his diving board, Think Steve Zissou staring up at the Leopard Shark, and Owen Wilson’s “Accidently On Purpose” motorcycle crash. Even Good ole Mr. Fox must spend his film dealing with the fact he’s doomed nearly everyone he knows through his selfishness. In The Royal Tenenbaum’s it’s the entire cast that’s slouching towards redemption. Searching for some way to be kinder.

Phrasing it like this makes him sound corny and trite, perhaps that’s why he’s so dedicated to making his films play at the remove of a dedicated modelist. But the key word in that sentence is desperate. Thats what gives Anderson’s films the sadness and emotion that makes all the whimsy and wonder go down.

Its this mix of muted emotion and melancholy sentiment, his ability to capture life played at the tone of Vince Guaraldi, above all Anderson’s other (brilliant) gifts of composition, music and dialogue that make Anderson so invaluable. If taken as the central theme of his work, then The Royal Tenembaums is without a doubt his greatest statement on the subject, and his greatest film. It is in fact one of the wisest, funniest, forgiving films about what it means to be human that I have ever seen.

The Tenenbaum’s, like so many other Anderson characters, are all walking punchlines when first we see them. Richie behind his beard and glasses. Chas with his track suits, shock of black hair, and ever quivering sense of rage, Margo with her ever present mink stole and cigarettes and southern gothic wooden finger. What Anderson does brilliantly is strip down the joke, the look of pain and vulnerability when Richie finally shaves his beard and uncovers his eyes, the sorrow behind Richie’s Anger, the loneliness behind Margo’s affectations. It’s not enough for Anderson to show us people as caricatures; he’s enough of an artist to tell us why someone would turn themselves into one.

The visual element of Anderson’s work is also at a never better state. Every detail the game room, the boar’s head, the Dalmatian mice, Eli’s buckskin jacket, Sherman’s bowtie, Raliegh’s book covers. Everything feels tactile, perfect, and right.

Maybe part of what sells Anderson’s sentiment is how unabashedly his characters are themselves. Of the directors working today only Tarantino and PT Anderson rival Anderson’s ability to instantly lock a character in your mind. Anderson’s characters are so uniquely themselves that you never even forget their names. Max Fischer, Steve Zissou, Margret Yang, Dignan, Herman Blume, Ned Plympton, Margo Tenenbaum, Dr. Nelson Guggenheim, Rosemary Cross, Eleanor Zissou, Pagoda. You didn’t even have to think about them did you? When an Anderson character changes for the better, and they all almost invariably do, its not because of the dictates of Hollywood morality, or to make the audience feel good, often as in the case of Royal, the Anderson character improves because they are in themselves so delightful that they cannot imagine depriving others of their company because of the small matter of their short comings. They will simply have to move themselves past such minor difficulties.

The justifiably famous long pan after the climax finds all the characters wiser and happier then we found them. Not because of any false epiphanies, or easy outs, or reclaimed glories, but because damnit they’ve earned it. Because Royal’s absurd epitath is true in its own beautiful way.

To say The Royal Tenenbaums is a film of moments sounds like a dismissal even though its not. Because it is a film of moments in the same way Jules and Jim is a film of moments and the way Night Of The Hunter and Clockwork Orange are films of moments. Not because the rest of the film around them is bad, but because there are moments and sequences and shots so perfect in and of themselves that they instantly become part of who you are as a filmgoer. The whirling montage through Margo’s life spinning through all two minutes of Judy Is A Punk, The Hey Jude set opening that perfectly establishes the tone and characters before the film has even begun. Richie regarding himself in the mirror face shorn, years of pain in his eyes ready to die, Elliot Smith serenading him back through the years. Chad and Royal’s argument in the games closet. Ethel reaction to Royal’s revelation infront of that grand old house on Archer. “I’ve had a rough year Dad.” Henry Sherman’s halting marriage proposal. “Yeah but its not your fault.” The sloppy, desperate kiss between Richie and Margo. The profound look of sadness pain and betrayl Margo has on her face as she looks down at Richie’s hospital bed. She Smiles Sweetly morphing into Ruby Tuesday. Royal’s day with his grandchildren. “How can I help.” And that lovely quintessentially Anderson shot of Margo stepping off the Greenline Bus, Richie beholding her while a string of white uniformed Ships Captains march behind, while These Days plays. Absurd, and arch and beautiful to behold, and wonderful to feel.

5 comments:

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

I'm yet to see this, but it's popping up at quite a few blogs' end of decade lists.

Evil Dead Junkie said...

It'd be well worth it.

ravinoff said...

That clip brought to mind another thing pitch-perfect about that film: Alec Baldwin's narration.

Evil Dead Junkie said...

Oh yeah just the way he lets the words "Archer Avenue" roll off his tongue.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure why I like this movie, but I just do. :D