Thursday, December 6, 2012

I want this family to love me

My first post on this blog began with this: “The first of his films that truly connected with me was the Royal Tenenbaums. It is about a family of genius’ lost in the world of adulthood- one that I was, and still am, terrified to begin. They return to the home they grew up in, brought together by the most unlikely of sources- their father, Royal, who had helped to tear them apart.” So you can imagine how excited, and nervous, I am to write a review and summary- or I’d rather say, “write a response”, to this film. The Royal Tenenbaums is my favorite of Wes Anderson’s, if not all, movies. It’s the first film where his style really takes off. He has finally perfected his camera technique- long-pan and slowed-down shots set to British pop. His rolling camera scenes are systematic and choppy, but also give his film a symmetric, artistic appearance.

I am always amazed at the length Anderson goes to, to create his vision. It’s obvious that, unlike many modern films, each set is a real place; there is no CGI, no green screen shots. Each individual set and prop holds great importance to him; he takes great responsibility in creating the world he expects his characters to inhabit. It’s not an easy task, but he doesn’t accept anything less than perfect. No matter the cost, the impossibilities, or time it will take, he knows what he wants, and he will go to great lengths to get it. For example, I heard him say on the film’s commentary version that this picture (above), which only is shown for a few seconds, could not be found. So he hired someone to paint, and hired a painter to paint her. That is true dedication. His style of film making is expensive and a lot of work, but it does create an aesthetic that is lost in modern film making, and that I personally find myself craving.

This eccentric film takes place in the Wes Anderson’s version of New York-a city that even the most seasoned natives would find unfamiliar. He even goes as far as blocking the Statue of Liberty from view when shooting. This gives his film the same air of mystery and illusion that each of his films contain.

It opens with two long, narrated openings that remind of Max’s club montage. These are used as introductions to the characters and their pasts.

Etheline and Royal, separated parents, had three genius children: Chas is a math and business prodigy. His brother Richie is a star tennis player. He is the only child accepted by Royal, and invited to Royal’s traditional coming-of-age outings. The invitation is not offered to his siblings. Their adopted sister, Margot, is a playwright, like Max in Rushmore. She has a wooden replacement for a finger she lost when she was fourteen. A relative of her real family accidentally chopped it off. Eli Cash, the Tenenbaums’ neighbor, is Richie best friend. He is envious of the Tenenbaums’, and wishes that he was one of them. He yearns for their quirky opportunities, and media recognition.

As the Tenenbaum children grow into 30-some year old adults failure, catastrophe, and regret buries all memory of the celebrity they held in their youth: Chas, now a father of two, is a widower obsessed with safety. Richie has given up tennis after a humiliating match caused by a broken heart. Margot hasn’t written a popular play in years, and now spends a disproportionate time in the bathroom tub watching TV. They are locked in an age of pubescent stagnation, unable to cope with the realities and failures of adulthood. Eli, however, is now a fashionable writer, (though not a well-reviewed one) and is enjoying the fame he was always jealous of as a child.

As I said at the beginning, they are healed through a reunion brought about by their father, who is not motivated by the love he has for his children, but by petty jealousy. He is warned that a man is moving in on his wife. (Even though they have separated, they are still legally married.) He does not want the status quo to change, and therefore decides to win her back. He claims to be terminally ill, and wheedles his way into her home, where his children are also staying for the time being. (He was evicted from his hotel and needed a place to stay.) Henry Sherman, the man attempting to woo Etheline, is not impressed.

Love Triangle- the Second Generation: Margot is married to Raleigh, a psychologist. Margot is having an affair with Eli. Raleigh is suspicious and confides in Richie. Richie is in love with Margot. She is the reason he did terribly in that tennis match. They hire a private investigator. Eli tells Margot that Richie is in love with her. The private investigator finds a history that involves an unknown smoking habit, and multiple affairs. This devastates Richie. Richie attempts to kill himself. He survives. Margot and Richie confess their love for each other.

Love Triangle- the First Generation: Henry investigated Royal’s cancer claim. He finds it false. Royal had been using Tic Tacs as medication. Royal realizes that he truly does love his family after he is thrown out. This newfound epiphany inspires him to sign the divorce papers. He wants Etheline to be happy. This does not return his family’s respect.

Ending: Things gradually get better. Margot releases a new play. It is based on her family. It receives mixed reviews. Eli is in rehab for a mescaline addiction. Richie teaches a children’s tennis class. Royal has a heart attack. Royal dies. Chas is the only witness to his father’s death.

What makes this film so powerful is its underlying themes of death and regret. The Tenenbaum children cannot live up to their old glory. When they realize this, their maturation stops. They stagnate. Life gets in the way, and it’s too much for them. In psychology, being an adult means the continuous struggle between generativity and stagnation. To me, being an adult means acceptance of past failures, the resolution to regrets, recognition of age, and the resulting enthusiasm for future endeavors. Before Royal returns, the children are lost in the world of adulthood. They are confused about their past, stuck in the present, and wary of the future. Royal creates a domino effect of self-introspection, and identity acceptance. While the family is together, they don’t feel as isolated.

Example one- Chas is still suffering from the death of his wife. While Royal’s insensitive argument that he is having, “a nervous breakdown”, and hasn’t, “recovered” from his wife’s death. What Royal says begins to gradually change Chas. He is terribly sad, and fixates that energy on his children’s security, and his hatred of Royal. He understands this, but facing it is too painful. However, by the end of the film, after facing his instability (he attacked Eli-you’ll have to watch the film to figure out why) he finally releases his repressed emotions. He tells Royal, “Dad, I’ve had a hard year.” That is one of the most moving parts of the movie for me.

 Example two- When Richie is trying to come to terms with his love for Margot, he goes to Royal for advice. While Royal’s presence was not enough to stop his son from attempting to commit suicide, it is enough to help him come to terms with his feelings. Again, it all comes down to emotions. Though Royal lies A LOT throughout the film, by the end of it, his sincerity is truly touching.

  Example three- Royal takes Margot out for ice cream to talk to her about Richie’s feelings. She tells him that she cannot stay long, and isn’t interested in talking, but one look into his father’s hurt eyes and she reconsiders. It was probably the first time she saw that her father cared. He would always introduce her as his adopted daughter, Margot. But for the first time, she was just his daughter.

   This was the first Wes Anderson film that really touched something within me. People always say that everything will be ok. I never believe them. But this movie helped me understand. You may not be a child-genius, a suffering lover, or a widower, but we all have regrets or sadness that can debilitate us without notice. We all have baggage that slows us down. This movie helped me understand that there’s always someone, no matter how unexpected they may be, that help you move forward. There is always hope, and everything gets better, even if the positive change is gradual.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

What's the secret, Max?

Rushmore- it’s a fan favorite. Like Moonrise Kingdom, Rushmore is a coming of age story. Max Fischer, fifteen, is trying to find his way in the world of adulthood by grappling with the reality of what love, family, and having friends truly is.  We meet him as he is failing out of his dream school, Rushmore Academy, and falling in love with, and becoming increasingly fixated on and obsessed with, the elementary school teacher who works there.

Max is a quirky character completely driven by emotion. He’s at the age where he tries to act cool and be independent, but doesn’t quite know how.He is terrified on not living up to the expectations his mother, now dead, held for him, and so he has his hands in almost every club in Rushmore, and is an especially avid play writer.

Max treats adults as equals. This attracts Blume, a millionaire who is going through his mid-life crisis (after realizing that his marriage amounts to nothing and that his sons are disrespectable and immature). He finds Max’s ambition and confidence a reminder of how he used to feel. He looks up to Max, even though, throughout the movie, he begins to realize that Max’s confident demeanor is just a facade to hide his insecurity. Max is still just a kid, not the adult Blume believes him to be.

Ms. Cross, the holder of Max’s affection, is recovering from her husband’s death just the year before. She is romanticized in Max’s view, which gives her a story-book feel. She find’s Max both entertaining and dangerous (he does not hide his interest). After the first time they meet, Max revives Latin to impress her. With the help of Blume, he decides to go a step further and create a school aquarium after learning about her interest in fish. This exploit gets him thrown out of Rushmore.

With Blume, Ms. Cross, and his friend Dirk Calloway, Max creates a ragtag gang- the family he never really had. However, it doesn’t last long. After Dirk is betrayed by Max, he spills the beans that Blume and Cross are having an affair. Thus begins Max’s rapid decline in his search for revenge. All is fair in love and war.

Like all good stories, there’s a happy, though rocky, ending. Max, even though having been expelled from two schools, arrested, and losing the fragile stability he had created with Ms. Cross, Blume, and Dirk, finds love and friendship again.
Rushmore feels like Anderson’s first official film (Bottle Rocket is his real first) you can tell that his style develops throughout Rushmore. With meticulous attention to detail, filming techniques that make each scene look like a play, breezy pop transitions, melancholic humor, and very real character interaction, Anderson succeeds in creating an aesthetically pleasing and dream-like, yet realistically convincing, film that audiences adore. 

Monday, October 15, 2012


While I do not agree at all with French’s belief that the Royal Tenenbaums’ is an, “incomprehensible and largely unfunny,” and “an invitation to thoughtlessness, a cultivation of the irrationally wilful,” with no significant depth or message, I find his writing style refreshing after suffering through Ebert’s review.
French spent more of his time researching Anderson’s inspiration for the film, ( “Anderson's attraction to eccentricity stems, he says, from reading back numbers of the New Yorker, and indeed over the years that magazine has had quite a line in urban oddities. The cartoons of George Price, George Booth and Charles Addams, for instance; the stories of JD Salinger and the profiles of Joseph Mitchell (most especially his classic portrait of the tramp-philosopher Joe Gould). Salinger's Glass family of disturbed former child prodigies are, like the Tenenbaums, half-Jewish and half-Irish, and would appear to be Anderson's conscious or unconscious models.) and posting his not-so-subtle perspective, rather then  creating an Anderson biography, as Ebert attempted.  I find this technique more direct, organized, and successful.

French, . "Geniuses with nothing to declare." Royal Tenenbaums. 16 2002: n. page. Web. 15 Oct. 2012. <


I’ve always believed that Rushmore was directed towards adults moreso then teenagers. The main character, Max, is at an age of confusion and awkwardness that watchers can connect with by reliving their own clumsy teenage memories of first love and loss, without the sharpness of pain, regret, or humiliation, which teenagers can experience, but instead humor. However, Ebert’s seem too displaced from Max’s age. He writes, “The movie turns into a strategic duel between Max and Blume, and that could be funny, too, except that it gets a little mean when Max spills the beans to Blume's wife, and feels too contrived.” Teenagers are pretentious and childish. I think that Anderson’s decision to have Max tattle on Blume develops his character, not detracts from it.
Ebert also says, “But their film seems torn between conflicting possibilities: It's structured like a comedy, but there are undertones of darker themes, and I almost wish they'd allowed the plot to lead them into those shadows.” I believe that it’s that in between that makes the film so watchable. Max is stuck in a time of self-discovery or identity-confusion, depending on whether you view the glass half full or half empty. Though he might do some horrible things, like we all are capable of when backed into a corner, it’s still obvious that he’s a great kid. Wes Anderson succeeds in developing a character’s redeeming and connectable qualities within times of rivalry and brutal mistakes- he humanizes his characters.
I only agree with one of Ebert’s phrases. He says, “Up until this point, even a little further, ``Rushmore'' has a kind of effortless grace. Max Fischer emerges as not just a brainy comic character, but as a kid who could do anything, if he weren't always trying to do everything” That’s Max in a nutshell.
For the most part though, Ebert’s writing is writing is awkward, unconnected, and disorganized. He oversimplifies the themes, and focuses on the history of the directors more then the film that he is reviewing.  His writing feels unbalanced and, without depth or structure, his review ends up seeming unsophisticated and rushed.

Ebert, Robert. "Rushmore." Chicagosuntimes, 05 1999. Web. Web. 15 Oct. 2012. <>.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

What's not to love?

Everyone remembers their first Wes Anderson film. His movies are full of quirk, and filled to the brim with a style that is completely him. They’re easy to fall in love with, and do exactly what, art is supposed to do, “– evoke a curiosity about ourselves, and the lives of others.”

I had been dancing around, or rather dodging, his films for a while; I thought that I was too cool for the silly CGI shark and sea horse in Life Aquatic, the petty criminals in Bottle Rocket, and Max, the snarky teenager with a Mrs. Robinson complex in Rushmore. However, once I accepted that ignoring him was only going to slow my falling for his films, there was no going back.

The first of his films that truly connected with me was the Royal Tenenbaums. It is about a family of genius’ lost in the world of adulthood- one that I was, and still am, terrified to begin. They return to the home they grew up in, brought together by the most unlikely of sources- their father, Royal, who had helped to tear them apart.

Years after my first Wes Anderson film, I like to think of myself as a seasoned fan. After all, I have decided to create an entire blog dedicated to exploring his techniques, films, characters, and everything in between. When I started searching for other’s reviews of him to get an idea of how to begin, I was taken aback. For every one person who had fallen for his outlandish, but completely loveable style, as I had, there were ten criticizers who described his films as unsophisticated, oppressive, and valuing style over substance.

Reviewers of Anderson’s films believe that his style appealed to a certain type of person- the typical of such being white, middle class, artistically-contained, and confused in what direction their life should take. They believe that, “he is fascinated with arrested spiritual and emotional development, and the pain and humor accompanying it, but he is not interested in the interior ideas behind it.” This, they believe, creates a Peter Pan effect, where his movies are stuck, “in a state of perpetual pubescence.” They confuse his style with that of a child’s play. “He does this on two levels: Within the story itself (like children, his characters yearn for greater significance in the world), and, mirroring this, within the film’s aesthetic (a kindergarten-esque extremely literal style contrary to grown-up ideas of sophistication).”
While I do agree that his films are reminiscent of childhood, a time where everything possesses mystery and grand importance, I do not believe that that makes them oversimplified. His characters usually have or are undergoing great change and emotional drama, and, to cope, they hide their emotions within themselves. Casual observers can mistake their emotionally-muted facades for artless, uncomplicated mistakes-the exact opposite of the carefully-crafted truth.

Another critique of Wes Anderson is that he uses other races as “caricatures”or “novelties” to make his world seem more exotic. His characters may be privileged, and sometimes presumptuous, but that doesn’t make them outwardly racist. Can you title them as being arrogant just because they are completely immersed in their own world?
Like them, I am lucky to be socially advantaged. This summer I went to an anti-oppression training which enlightened me about my place in the world. I had never dwelled on what privileges I had, but instead had taken them for granted. After the training I felt lucky, and a bit guilty, that I felt safe, educated, economically stable, and was white, when so many people in our country suffer from predjudice and inequality every day.
However, I do not believe that Wes Anderson is exaggerating class or racial issues by the characters in his films. His main theme is, “the heroic rising of the weird individuals creative will under the oppressive weight of tradition and history. Break free and do your own thing.” If anything, he is fighting against oppression. Beyond that though, you shouldn’t expect him or his films to be a beacon for the socially disadvantaged, or judge him when they aren’t. He doesn’t take himself too seriously, and you shouldn’t expect him to.

Just as his characters are intricate and thought out, so to are his directing and filming techniques. His easy-to-identify aethstetic has made him one of the most recognizable directors of our time. I absolutely love his preferred gang of actors that have become as familiar as friends to me, his filming style that evokes elements of childhood, and his deadpan, witty scripts. You can tell that he puts his whole soul into his movies, and it pays off.
But to say that he develops his filming techniques at the expense of his characters is just not the case. They are not too curious to the point of seeming undemensional or unrealistic. His backgrounds of pastels, symmetric shots, slow-motion sequences, light 60s rock, and lengthy gradual-panning scenes that remind one of stage plays emphasizes, not deters, from his storyline.

I can understand that maybe, like all movies can, his films just don’t jibe with your tastes; but it’s one thing to dislike a director’s style, but quite another to feel so strongly about it as to write scathing reviews that rip apart his techniques and plots. “When they say a movie is ‘too smart for its own good,’ as if we’re trying to show how great and cool we are… well, that’s just not the case.”