A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Thursday, January 5, 2017

The Royal Tenenbaums (Wes Anderson, 2001)

It's hard to be droll for an hour and a half, and The Royal Tenenbaums, which runs about 20 minutes longer than that, shows the strain. Still, I don't have the feeling with it that I sometimes have with Wes Anderson's  first two films, Bottle Rocket (1996) and Rushmore (1998), of not being completely in on the joke. This time it's the wacky family joke, familiar from Kaufman and Hart's You Can't Take It With You and numerous sitcoms. It works in large part because the cast plays it with such beautifully straight faces. And especially because it's such a magnificent cast: Gene Hackman, Anjelica Huston, Ben Stiller, Gwyneth Paltrow, Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson (who co-wrote the screenplay with Anderson), Bill Murray, and Danny Glover. It's also beautifully designed by David Wasco and filmed by Robert D. Yeoman, with Anderson's characteristically meticulous, almost theatrical framing. Hackman, as the paterfamilias in absentia Royal Tenenbaum, is the cast standout, in large part because he gets to play loose when everyone else maintains a morose deadpan, but also because he's an actor who has always been cast as the loose cannon. Even in films in which he's supposed to be reserved and repressed, such as The Conversation (Francis Ford Coppola, 1974), he keeps you waiting for the inevitable moment when he snaps. Here he's loose from the beginning, but he doesn't tire you out with his volatility because he knows how much of it to keep in check at any given moment.