While I like to dabble in a pop culture post every once in a while, I thought I'd make Wes Anderson the object of my blogging affection. From the Bottle Rocket debut to The Royal Tenenbaums, the Anderson-Olsen dream team have mastered the art of writing glass-half-empty comedies. By cutting through the formulaic bullshit of many mainstream comedies, Anderson brands his films with a distinct stylistic stamp of offbeat characters going through the motions of life's standard downers--divorce, heartbreak, identity issues, depression, disloyalty...As a result, his films effectively showcase the vulnerabilities of each character in a sobering salt-in-wounds way that is both painfully familiar and refreshingly unique.
My favourite offering from the Anderson-Olsen duo would have to be The Royal Tenenbaums (with Rushmore coming in a close second). I'm not sure what reeled me in more-- the fallen child prodigies with major abandonment issues or how Chas (Ben Stiller) and his sons always rock matching Addidas tracksuits. Whatever the case may be, the film is deeply entrenched in the Welles/Salinger-esque tradition of broken high-society families.
At the heart of the Tenenbaum tale is Royal, an absent and neglectful father whose 3 offspring each have their own abandonment complex to match. You have Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow), the brooding and emotionally detached adoptee; Richie (Luke Wilson), the sucidal tennis champ favourite; and Chas, who walks around with a Royal chip so large that he's on the verge of keeling over. Magnifying the characters' current downfalls is their former glory days, an era of pre-divorce innocence and genius. After Royal obliviously bursts each of their bubbles with his own signature touch, so begins the characters' demise. While his ex-wife, Etheline (Angelica Huston), is as good as a maternal role model as they come, her influence sadly cannot halt the self-destructive behaviour of her adult children.
If you're a child of divorce with especially complicated daddy issues, the premise will strike awfully close to home for you. If not, the film will still move you in all sorts of ways. As a member of the first category, I was really touched by how the film realistically captured the essence of broken family ties. Since Royal's main paternal flaw lies in his self-centred inability to provide his kids with unconditional love, each child is left with a warped sense of what love really is: Margot's incapacity to love Raleigh St. Claire (Bill Murray), Richie's forbidden love for his sister, and Chas' overprotective parenting strategies. But as they eventually discover, blaming daddy for all of your life's failures starts getting pretty damn old if you're not actually taking some of the responsibility for the mess. While each of their stories can almost become a cliche of the post-divorce fall-out, Anderson successfully weaves unique supporting characters into the mix such as the mescaline-induced-wannabe Tenenbaum--Eli Cash (Owen Wilson), as well as Henry (Danny Glover), Etheline's soft-spoken-soon-to-be-husband who serves as Royal's dramatic foil.
At the same time, Royal experiences his own epiphany once he realizes the collateral damage his thoughtless actions have scattered along the way. With exception to his stomach cancer hoax, Royal genuinely tries to make ammends for a lifetime of screw-ups. Anderson also uses Mr. Tenenbaum as a shining example of how karma can and will eventually bite you in the ass.
So The Royal Tenenbaums is a story of mending the most obliterated of fences, no matter how ugly the carnage may be. Because in the end, all of our families are dysfunctional, and have feuds, and hold grudges, and have dirty secrets, and experience tragedy. That's at least something we can all take comfort in knowing...