Thursday, November 8, 2007
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mr. Wes Anderson
I recently re-watched the Wes Anderson movie The Royal Tenenbaums -- not, as you're probably thinking, on account of those commercials I wrote about a while back (the actor I mentioned, Larry Pine, is on display here as well, as the unctuous talk-show host Peter Bradley, a knockoff of Charlie Rose, although he's only in two scenes, one of which is a fleeting glimpse of him feeling up Gwyneth Paltrow in her wild-oats montage; the young man who plays the "I'm TEXTing... Mom" student, Ebon Moss-Bachrach, is also here as a bellhop, albeit in a very brief appearance; on the DVD commentary, Anderson pauses to mention what a good actor he is and what a shame it was that they didn't give him more to do, which, no kidding, Wes, the guy is onscreen for like five seconds and if you hadn't pointed him out [he has frizzy hair here as opposed to his AT&T buzzcut], I never would have noticed him) but because my family had recently seen a stage version of E.L. Konigsburg's young-adult novel From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, and I was reminded of Anderson's comment on the director's track of the Royal Tenenbaums DVD of how the brief passage near the beginning of the movie showing Margot and Richie Tenenbaum running away to a museum was inspired by From the Mixed-Up et cetera, in which two kids from Connecticut run away to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
On a second viewing, I was struck by how much of the film comes across like a young-adult novel (which seems like a misnomer, as those books are generally read by something like 10- to 13-year-olds, who aren't anywhere close to adults). From the Kandy-Kolored design to the slightly askew version of New York City, the movie takes the format of a young-adult book -- literally, since each new section is introduced with a page from a book called, naturally, The Royal Tenenbaums. As I read it, the film basically takes a Y-A premise -- a family of three overachieving teens, with an entrepreneur, a playwright and a tennis ace -- and watches what happens to them as they peak too soon and settle into their miserable 30s. It's the kind of metaphor Anderson was living for a while, wearing suits that were a size and a half too small for him, although he seems to have outgrown that now. (Get it?) He's also helped along by a stellar cast of the quality Woody Allen used to be able to assemble; even Luke Wilson isn't half bad, although he kind of cheats a little by spending most of the movie in a stupor, hidden behind a headband, shades and a full beard.
The irony, though, is that it's jam-packed with suicide, drug addiction, incest, smoking, lesbianism, and plenty other old-adult motifs. There's even some racism, in that hilarious scene where Gene Hackman calls Danny Glover "Coltrane." Given co-writer Owen Wilson's recent troubles, perhaps it's no surprise that the Wilson-Anderson team thinks young-adult themes can live on only in art. And sometimes not even then.