The idea of family is one that has been permeating in my mind a lot lately–for the past year really. I guess that’s what happens when you move away from them to explore life on your own. As I try to figure out things for myself, I realize how much I yearn for the seemingly simplistic days of a world before responsibility and despite how much bad there was in our family, I miss them and yearn to get closer as each day passes. Which brings me to The Royal Tenenbaums, Wes Anderson’s de facto family case study. The cracked relationships between family members is nothing new for Anderson–he touched on it in his two previous pictures Bottle Rocket and Rushmore and has touched on it ever since. What makes this one the top-tier, other than specifically being about a fractured family, is it seems to be the most personal. In the commentary for The Royal Tenenbaums, Anderson explains that the writing process started when, longtime friend and collaborator, Owen Wilson suggested he write about his parents divorce. Anderson admits he started out that way but as the story progressed it took a life of its own and went into a new direction–although it’s not hard to see that some autobiographical elements are sprinkled throughout.
Now, more than ever, this film resonates with me. With its themes of heartbreak, self-destruction,familial turmoil and peaking at an early age, I watch Anderson’s whimsically gloomy affair with brand new eyes. I watch it and see my own family, not because the events are familiar but because the themes are. From the opening scene with Alec Baldwin’s grizzly deep and straight-laced narration telling the tale of the family from “the house on Archer Avenue” over the organ instrumental of “Hey Jude” to the bittersweet sort-of-happy ending, The Royal Tenenbaums is a candid slice of upper crust Americana that somehow finds semblance with anyone from a dysfunctional setting. Its usage of color, infiltration of obscure pop and punk music of the 60s and 70s, its calculated and meticulous direction and focus–sometimes reminiscent of french films–it’s all standard Andersonian theatrics and it’s a credit to him that, although at times it straddles the line of self-parody, it’s still wonderfully poignant to this day.
Anderson’s expose on rich kid blues and genius families that aren’t so genius, has been standard watch for me since I first saw it on television years ago. It was the movie that introduced me to his filmography, a collection I instantly fell in love with and still love to this day. Anderson’s focus on the relationships made between people, family or otherwise, and the dysfunctions that ensue are unique and artfully rendered. I urge you all to watch it again (or for the first time) along with me this weekend and together we can all search our feelings and curse Wes Anderson for actually making us like Gwyneth Paltrow. (Even if it’s only for two hours.)