Mixtapes for Hookers

A Royal Anniversary
October 14, 2011, 3:52 pm
Filed under: movies | Tags: , ,

Last night Wes Anderson reunited with (some of) the cast of The Royal Tenenbaums, to mark the tenth anniversary of its 2001 premiere at the New York Film Festival.

For me, The Royal Tenenbaums is probably the most important movie of the past ten years.  I could go back and forth about whether it’s actually the best movie, but tempting though it may be it’s probably counterproductive to spend the rest of my day debating the pros and cons of whether it’s a “better” movie than, say, Morvern Callar.

What makes certain movies really great, I think, is their ability to elicit different emotions at different times.  I first saw The Royal Tenenbaums in a movie theater with a good friend, and we both laughed a lot.  The second time, I watched it at home with my mother; she fell asleep after five minutes and I cried for an hour and a half.

It’s certainly a downer, albeit a very funny and fantastic-looking downer.  It’s also a movie that’s come up a lot in my personal life, probably more than any other.  When I met my boyfriend it was the only DVD he owned, and for a while we listened to the soundtrack pretty often.  In 2007 a writer for Stylus–upon that publication’s closing–called it his favorite movie of the millennium:

Probably very few of us have ever been suicidally in love with our adopted sisters, but Luke Wilson and Gwyneth Paltrow’s relationship still seems to say everything that could ever be said about love—except, of course, for what we see in Danny Glover and Anjelica Huston’s love. And when Anjelica Huston smiles, her smile contains all of human happiness. You can tell watching it that the actors felt this, too, as each member of the huge cast gives the best performance of their career.

It’s true that Anderson pulled very specific performances out of actors (ahem, Owen Wilson) that aren’t normally very endearing.  And I’m no fan of Gene Hackman, either, but that doesn’t matter here.

Ensemble films are always interesting to look at years later, because the career trajectories of the casts are usually so all over the place:  Ben Stiller, who made Tenenbaums immediately after Zoolander, was slowly beginning his decline from 90’s indie comedy guy to Little Fockers At The Museum guy.  All the Gwyneth Paltrow haters didn’t have blogs yet to express their constant dismay about her existence.  And Bill Murray was just ascending into his mysterious renaissance of possibly-ironic popularity.

(And it’s not just the cast, but the music that dates in unexpected ways:  Remember that Elliott Smith was still alive when the suicidal Richie Tenenbaum shaved his trademark facial hair off to the tune of “Needle In The Hay.”  And Luke Wilson, Richie himself, attempted suicide on film in a New York bathroom a whole six years before his co-star brother tried to kill himself, in real life, in Mary Kate Olsen’s apartment.)

I haven’t seen The Royal Tenenbaums in a couple of years, and I’m not actually sure that I could comfortably watch it now, as this might be the wrong moment in my own life to sit down with a movie about gifted children who grow up to be complete fuck-ups.  Instead, maybe, I’ll just listen to the soundtrack, which, while rather melancholy, is also endlessly charming.

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