The world wide Wes

Sean McGrath

Genius expires. Sad news for Wes Anderson fans because certainly the man falls under such a title. His new film The Royal Tenenbaums explores such an idea and its affectations on a New York family. The Tenenbaum family just so happens to bear three child geniuses.

Director and co-writer Wes Anderson says in addressing the children of the Tenenbaum Family, “They all peaked early, and it (genius) doesn’t usually last. Something Owen (fellow-writer Owen Wilson) and I were very interested in is what happens afterward, and how genius makes you unable to cope with normal things.”

The film jumps 22 years down the road where the family reunites in the same old house as Royal Tenenbaum (the patriarch) announces his foreboding death. However, Anderson is such an astute filmmaker that he can take a plot, so seemingly soap operatic, and candyjam it so full of visual richness and aberrant, off-beat humor that the central story becomes second act. Anderson mentions, “This movie might have a bigger audience possibly, because of all the movie stars, which means there’s a bigger chance for more people to not get it.”

Since the film takes place on location in New York City, Anderson got a chance to incorporate many artistic influences. “I was excited to make New York sort of an ‘invented place’. There were a lot of literary inspirations. That’s where my feeling for New York comes from. Joseph Mitchell, AJ Liebling, F Scott Fitzgerald and Salinger.”

This is indeed a Wes Anderson film. Like his past two endeavors, Bottle Rocket and Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums shares similar stylistic choices, comedic timing, and actors. I don’t want to resurrect any of that “auteur bullshit” but in talking to other members of the Tenenbaum team, I get the idea that wunderkind Anderson played Frankenstein in its creation.

Angelica Huston (Etheline Tenenbaum) says, “He’s engaged, even minutely, in every single aspect of the film. He makes very serious movies under the guise of comedy, and this film is just as much about the disenfranchisement and disconnectedness of love, as it is about ‘the funnies.’ It’s a very specific vision and I don’t feel like Wes is out to impress anyone. He has his interests and his connections, and that’s what his movies are about, I think they’re very much about him. Like all good artists, he’s writing about himself.”

Danny Glover, who modeled his character Henry Sherman off U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan says, “There’s something precious about Wes, especially in this business. I want to be around people (actors, filmmakers) who are capable of something else, and Wes gave me that opportunity. It (the film) appealed to my own sensibilities, Wes created a character that’s a healer in a sense, and that’s what the story’s about; healing.”

While this film deals with the tribulations of a struggling family, Anderson tried extensively to convey his fascination with “genius.” “When I was a kid I was always impressed with this one kid who had skipped a couple grades and he couldn’t even do math (at the school), he had to go somewhere else to do his math because he was past our whole school. And he was a kid who couldn’t even get his lunch unwrapped, couldn’t deal with normal life at all, and so I was always impressed and puzzled by him, and I’ve always had a fascination with prodigies like that.”

So if genius is fading, then what ill fate awaits Anderson ten years down the road? “I don’t worry about it” he quips, “but it does happen to everybody. Right now one thing I feel like I’ve been able to do is make movies that I’m dying to make. I’m dying to make these three movies that I’ve done. But at a certain point there could be a movie that I was dying to make and it doesn’t really gel, you know, and that usually seems to happen. It’s not something I’m really concerned about, cause what are you gonna do, I just try to do the best I can do now.”