Friday, April 4, 2014

The Royal Tenenbaums


My apologies for my prolonged absence from all of my hordes of fans who are breathless with anticipation at my every professional move. This is the first day they've let me have web access. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me go back to where I left off...

After a nerve wracking few days, I finally managed to create a lovely little lounge act for my new gig as the star attraction for Norwegian Cruise Line's upcoming Caribbean cruise. After considering a musical salute to hospice care, a modern dance piece commemorating the battle of Borodino, and a prose poem on Assyrian architecture, I settled for something simple, intime and perfect for those setting sail on 'The Love Boat', a musical tribute to romance entitled 'When A Man Loves A Woman'- singing and dancing to a dozen or so great love standards including, 'Feelings' and 'Love to Love You Baby'.

It was a nightmare getting the songs chosen, the music arranged in my keys, the combo rehearsed and everything ship-shape and ready to go. Bob Mackie delivered the last of the stunning costumes just in the nick of time so Miguel, my chauffeur and private masseur, didn't have to wait too long in getting me to the airport. I was so looking forward to a little rest and relaxation in the sun. I've been so tired with all the work I've had to accomplish. I just don't know where I'd have been without that Special K sugar additive that Thugga has had delivered to the house for my morning coffee.

Nurse Lynn arrived in the midst of my packing and absolutely insisted I get out of the house to a film; so off we went to see The Royal Tenenbaums, the new film from Wes Anderson starring Gene Hackman and Anjelica Houston. Anderson first impressed with his little independent film, Bottle Rocket, made with his pals, the brothers Owen and Luke Wilson. All have now gone on to Hollywood careers. Anderson's second film, the quirky comedy Rushmore with Bill Murray, affirmed his status as an auteur with a sharp eye for the human comedy.

In this film, Gene Hackman stars as Royal Tenenbaum, patriarch of a large and thoroughly dysfunctional family, living somewhere in a New York City of the mind. He and his wife (Anjelica Huston) gave birth to three prodigies thirty years ago; Chas (Ben Stiller), who made a fortune in real estate while still in high school; Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow), an award winning playwright as a teen; and Richie (Luke Wilson), a young tennis pro. Twenty years later, the kids have fallen on mediocrity. Chas is recently widowed, paranoid, and smothering his two young sons in excess safety drills. Margot, never forgetting her adoptive origins, finds herself unable to write and unhappily married to an older intellectual (Bill Murray). Richie, after an inglorious end to his tennis career, drifts around the world pining after his adoptive sister who is busy carrying on with his best friend, Eli (Owen Wilson).

All of the children, to a certain extent, blame their midlife failures on the inadequate parenting of their father, a heel and a rapscallion, despite a successful career as a litigator, who was thrown out of the house years before. When Royal develops what may be a terminal disease, at the same time as he is thrown out of his residential hotel for non-payment of the bill, he turns back up at the family manse. The clan gathers, temperaments flare, old injuries are examined, and the occasional Dalmatian mouse wanders through as the Tenenbaums learn to adjust to each other and to life.

This is a film that is likely to provoke profound reactions from an audience. Its deliberate off-center approach to narrative and character will confuse certain viewers, used to a deliberate naturalism in filmic worlds. Others, who recognize that the oddball characters and situations are not meant to be a portrait of reality as we know it will sit back and enjoy the ride. To distance the audience, a framing device is used involving a book of the plot with occasional chapter narration (Alec Baldwin). This is a film patterned more on a non-linear novel than anything else. The ambiance is continued through visual and plot stylistic devices as well. A sort of magic realism permeates the proceedings. While the film is very definitely of New York City, it is carefully photographed to show no familiar landmarks. It's a New York without yellow cabs (all of the taxis are rust buckets known as 'Gypsy Cab') and with a 375th street YMCA (375th would be somewhere around Poughkeepsie).

The performances are uniformly excellent, led by Gene Hackman's brash and irredeemable Royal. He's infuriating, egocentric and lovable all at once. It's a difficult job for an actor to be a lovable monster and he pulls it off with an insouciance that as Oscar written all over it. The supporting cast all have their moments, especially Gwyneth Paltrow, sad and depressed behind kohl rimmed eyes and Owen Wilson as her drugged out paramour.

Cemetery trips. Wedding auto crash. Hidden cigarette packs. Indian manservant. Dalmatian mice. Salmon pink walls. Wrist slashing. Elevator operators. Finger loss. Unrequited incestuous longings.

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