Hey folks, Harry here with Disturbed's look at the latest project from Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson.... a pair whose RUSHMORE has been compared to some of the greatest comedies of all time (though I prefer BOTTLE ROCKET). This latest project sounds like another step in the right direction to me... but judge for yourself... here's Disturbed...
I am a huge Wes Anderson (and Owen Wilson) fan. RUSHMORE is hands down my favorite film of 1998, and BOTTLE ROCKET was a completely justified choice for Scorsese's Best Of 90's list (with which I was quite impressed). When I perused Elston's recap and saw the mention of the next Anderson/Wilson script, "The Royal Tannenbaums" having been completed, I began to do everything within my power, both real and delusional, to acquire a copy. Eventually it paid off and I received the script in my mailbox. Now, I tell you of my fandom as a warning, so that this may cause you to take the following with a grain of salt, but I've tried to remain objective, and of course as much as I wanted to read the script and love it, there was that fear that it would disappoint. I'm still not certain which one is the result. I'll try to keep the spoilers at a minimum.
The title originally rumored for this script was GARGLING DESTINY. I thought this was a very cool title, but it was abandoned (if it was ever seriously considered) in favor of THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS. Yes, TENENBAUMS, not Tannenbaums. I think that I like this title better. I'm a big fan of double meaning. Now, reviewing a script is more difficult than you may think. Even if you can talk at length about the merits of a film, as I'm sure many of you can (and likely do often), it's not as easy as that with a script. Recognizing a good script, and reviewing one are two very different things. Why? Well, the best analogy for a script is as a blueprint of a house. You may be able to look at blueprints and say "This house is going to be wonderful," but it's a far cry from actually walking around inside and commenting. In addition, a good blueprint can also be ruined by bad contractors, and unskilled craftsmen. There's always that worry. Of course, I happen to know that this blueprint is in good hands. Perhaps better than I can even yet tell.
The scripts to BOTTLE ROCKET and RUSHMORE are remarkably subtle, as is the direction (particularly in RUSHMORE). They are both fantastically funny films, in which the characters don't get the joke. They aren't in on it. There isn't some hammy comic actor punching the punchlines. Therein lies their brilliance, their honesty, and the source of their so commonly being misconstrued. I once had someone tell me they liked RUSHMORE, and I started excitedly talking about how funny it was...how subtle things like Blume continuing to drive the car slowly as he talks to Max bust me up, and she said "Well, um...I didn't really think it was funny. It was more of a drama, wasn't it?" While the film can work on that level, and it's part of what impresses me about it, I think it's really missing a big part of the spirit. Anderson's films are like a lo-watt radio station that plays some of the greatest music ever recorded. If you can tune in properly, you'll hear things you never imagined were there. Once you get on the wavelength of their sense of humor, every subtle nuance is amplified. This effect is increased with each subsequent viewing. I watched RUSHMORE with my parents, once. Something or other had me howling with laughter, and my mother just looked confused. "You're easily amused, aren't you."
With the knowledge that the previous films are so subtle, and that so much is added by the direction (one of my favorite moments in RUSHMORE is when Max pretends to crash his bike, and it's placed directly under the streetlight. A wonderful allusion to his theatrework, that was as funny because of how well it fit the character as anything. I'm not sure if this was in the script as I regrettably never read it, but there are other examples of direction that give added depth to the humor...like the way Max is tackled when wrestling) I approached the script by trying to get in tune with Anderson's vibe, so that I could imagine how the events would play onscreen more effectively. The script had me laughing out loud on the first page.
BUT...it appears to be by far the darkest of the three films. BOTTLE ROCKET was the least cynical, the most happy-go-lucky. Dignan was a ray of fucking sunshine, and one of the best characters in recent memory. RUSHMORE was darker. It had this incredible ability to make the same scene bittersweet, tragic and funny all at once. Images like the abject Blume jumping into the filthy pool, and just floating there achieved that amazing balance. I'm glad to say that this ability was carried over into TENENBAUMS. Harold Blume was a miserable character, and Max wasn't very happy with himself either. It was darker than BOTTLE ROCKET, but not as melancholy as TENENBAUMS appears to be. TENENBAUMS doesn't have a Dignan. It doesn't have a Max. None of the characters seem to posses the incredible optimism of those two characters. That said, there are many, many funny moments. The writing style is just as understated as the humor, so that even simple lines in the description had me laughing. "Dudley takes a bite of a graham cracker."
There are a couple other details that make this feel like a departure for them, albeit a fairly slight one. Both BOTTLE ROCKET and RUSHMORE had three principal characters. TENENBAUMS has at least seven. In BOTTLE ROCKET and RUSHMORE the women were really only objects of fixation and obsession. The stories were about the guys. Cross is a wonderful female character, but she took a back-seat, and she was the only girl (with the exception of Margaret, who was a comparatively minor character). TENENBAUMS has two important female characters, and while they do still function as objects of desire, they're also fuller characters in their own right (which is not to say that Cross, in RUSHMORE, wasn't...she was very fleshed o ut).
Hm. I haven't really addressed the plot, have I. All right, the script is held together by this odd sort of...book motif. The very first shot is of the jacket of a book, called The Royal Tenenbaums. There is a narrator, who speaks in the past tense just as a book would. He disappears throughout most of the middle of the story, because he's mostly there to give the sort of exposition that just can't be squeezed in without being heavy handed, unless you've got a narrator. It's funny, and concise. Throughout the script there are inserts of pages of this book. The beginnings of chapters. It's a little strange...but it works. The script opens with Royal Tenenbaum, the paterfamilias (sort of), being kicked out of the house. It's not really made clear why. It then introduces the rest of the family: his wife Etheline, the sons Chas and Richie, the adopted daughter Margot, and a childhood friend, Eli. Each of the children (with the exception of Eli) is something of a young genius. Margot an award winning young playwright, Chas a rather brilliant businessman (particularly real estate), Richie a tennis prodigy. All these among other talents. They were a rich family, as well.
Fast forward over 20 years. None of these people are happy anymore. To quote the script, "...virtually all memory of the brilliance of the young TENENBAUMS had been erased by two decades of betrayal, failure, and disaster." Bit by bit it's revealed what happened to the family. On top of this, Royal Tenenbaum, telling the family who he hasn't spoken to in years that he has cancer and is going to die in six weeks, moves back into the old house to try to reconcile with his estranged loved ones (who are also staying in the house for various reasons). He tries to make friends again. He tries to connect with his wife again (they were never divorced). He tries to instill a love of life in his grandchildren that seems to be missing, due to the overprotectiveness and paranoia of their father, Chas.
The theme of the love triangle from RUSHMORE is also revisited twofold in TENENBAUMS, but I won't reveal much more about that. The love triangle seems quite appropriate for the bittersweet, happy/sad nature of Anderson's films. Even with a "happy ending," in a love triangle, one person always loses out. TENENBAUMS has a happy resolution...a happy postscript...then a sad note...and then it finishes off with a laugh and a sly, sad smile. Even if I hadn't known, I think I'd have been able to point this out as an Anderson/Wilson script.
I think that while I got a lot of the jokes, the script will be much funnier filmed. The acting and direction will bring nuance to things, and I think the visual absurdity will be there. Once again, as in RUSHMORE, a lot of the comedy comes from cruelty, and I think that will come off even better on celluloid. There is a scene in which a child starts crying, that is actually funny to me, and at the same time it's heartbreaking. I have faith in the filmmakers, though, and I have no problem with them branching off into more dramatic material. It's a script darkened by unhappy marriages, estranged fathers and suicide. I don't know if this film will eclipse RUSHMORE as my favorite of Anderson's. I don't think it will, but that's not to say it will be an inferior film. I like this script a lot, and absolutely cannot wait to see the film. I'll be there opening day.
Honestly, I'd really love to hear Wes and/or Owen's thoughts on the script...what they're going for, if they think it's as funny as the past efforts, etc. No one can be more on their wavelength but them.
Well. Over 1600 words of rambling and I managed to avoid spoilers. Hopefully from my sparse plot descriptions and long winded comparisons to TENENBAUMS' two predecessors, you all have managed to extract a picture of what the script is like.
As always, I can be reached at: Disturbed's Looney Bin
Until next time,