There is a scene in The Royal Tenenbaums that always mesmorizes me. No matter how many times I see it, no matter what else I’m doing, I instantly get swept up in its beauty and simplicity and come to admire it even more than before.
Margot and Richie have been in love for a long time, dating all the way back to their childhood. Summoned back home after a prolonged absence, they arrange to meet at, “the pier by way of the Green Line Bus.” As Margot steps off of the bus, and spots Richie awaiting her arrival, their eyes lock and their expressions soften and not a word is needed to understand how these two truly feel about each other. They are wearing nearly identical colors, casting off a dreamlike hue as if they are the only people in each other’s worlds that stand out. Nico’s cover of Jackson Browne’s “These Days” plays over the scene, suggesting that these two never really got to be together and that their love as a whole was a missed opportunity.
Of course, none of this takes into account that Richie is Margot’s brother and Margot is his adopted sister. It wouldn’t truly be a Wes Anderson movie if there wasn’t one absurd little tidbit that threw the entire idea of this potential courtship out of whack. Richie later discusses his love for Margot with his father, Royal (played by the legendary Gene Hackman) and the following exchange takes place:
Royal: “It’s illegal though, right?”
Richie: “I don’t think so, we’re not blood related.”
Royal: “But probably frowned upon. But then again, what isn’t these days?”
That line made me wonder about what the reaction would have been if The Royal Tenenbaums had been released these days. Would there have been a giant backlash towards the Margot/Richie relationship on the internet or would they have been in the clear thanks to Game of Thrones’ portrayal of full-fledged incest? It’s safest to assume that people will get offended about anything that is even the slightest bit controversial. But as I rewatched the film recently, I realized two things: 1) I’m glad that certain movies were made before the advent of social media and 2) I really miss seeing Gene Hackman in new movies.
Probably a lot more than the other people in this movie missed his character.
Coming-of-age stories are one of the most overused archetypes in Hollywood: familiar, relatable and uplifting. In other words, it’s a proven formula that works. So when Wes Anderson revealed that his second feature film was going to follow that outline after Bottle Rocket bombed at the box office, I’m sure his producers were thrilled.
They might’ve been less enthusiastic when they read the script and found that the hero fakes injuries to try and win the heart of the woman he loves (one of the teachers at his school, nonetheless) and when his best friend starts dating that woman, he jealously tries to cut the brakes on his friend’s car. How are people supposed to get behind this guy if he’s trying to take us to all of these dark places?
The simple answer is that we have all been to those places before, because part of growing up is learning to cope with the injustices that life throws at you without succumbing to our worst impulses. That’s why we forgive the protagonist when he tries to exact terrible revenge on the friend who betrayed him. We’ve all felt that way before, only most of us haven’t acted on it.
You see, Anderson does adhere to the coming-of-age formula: he just does it in his unique, off-brand sort of way.
I was never much of a Wes Anderson fan growing up.
Perhaps I was too young or too impatient to understand his style of filmmaking. I remember watching The Royal Tenenbaums when it came out and, other than the scene when Danny Glover falls into a ditch as he’s walking alongside Anjelica Houston, I didn’t laugh once. There were excerpts of critics praising that movie all over the case of the DVD, so what was I missing?
It wasn’t until it was screened for us during my senior year of high school that it finally clicked for me. I guess you have to experience your own period of growing pains filled with awkward moments before you can grasp that absurd and ironic sense of humor. Or maybe that was exclusive to me. Whatever the reason that it took me so long, I’ve been a fan of his ever since.
I’m also a fan of collecting movies. The guest bedroom in my apartment has shelves packed full of blu-ray discs, which is a testament to my fiance’s patience to put up with that sort of thing and a perfect example of why nowadays most people opt for streaming: storing that many movies is a big pain in the ass. For me, it’s more of a labor of love and when I found out that Anderson has gradually been remastering all of his feature films and releasing them on blu-ray through the Criterion Collection, I knew that I had to have them.
Which brings me here. If you’re going to buy all of these films, watch them and try to turn it into a series for your blog, you have to start at the beginning.