January 6, 2002 [The Royal Tenenbaums]

Medieval mathematics aside, here we are at the Twelfth Day of Christmas, or Twelfth Night, or whatever it works out to be, now after sunset.  In any case, it's definitely the Epiphany, which the children love because we mark it as my Cuban mother used to, as Little Christmas--which means they lay out their shoes for the Three Kings to do what they do best: bear gifts; and we have a special dinner--sometimes Cuban; this year it was their mother's pizza--flour dust and warmth and sliced sausage and spinach drenched in garlic and olive oil and so on; and then a movie, The Royal Tenenbaums.

Royalty all around, then--and all of them with gifts.  In the movie, everyone receives some sort of life--almost a new one, for most.  Royal Tenenbaum himself--Gene Hackman in full-rascal mode--lies and lies and lies, and somehow this becomes a wonderful thing, all the way to his tombstone where with poetic truth we read he gave his life saving his family from the wreckage of a sinking battleship.  And let's not dwell on the fact that it seems he wrecked the ship, maybe ran it aground onto a sandbar where it tilted perilously and toppled on its side--the crew's fall broken only by their own varying ability to drop-n-roll.

And while they're models of quirkiness--of a kind the writer-director, Wes Anderson, seems on the verge of perfecting--the Tenenbaums never flatten out, never caricature themselves.  Anderson is smart in his casting, and wise enough to situate them in the frame in a painterly manner--or at least posed, still enough for us to get a good look (except for Royal, who bounces around too much, even after he's thrown out on his ear).

But what I see of him and his family I'm sorry to see go; this is the kind of movie you don't want to end.  It's a novel that you're happy reading for weeks, even if it means you stop after five pages or so, and wait.  This is, then, one of the few movies I'd like to own, a book on the shelf I can take down and browse through whenever I want to remind myself that the small things are never so small that they can't collide with the big ones, making sparks, breaking things to smithereens--or adopting new shapes, like the coral reefs that form around sunken ships.


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