Review Summary: Why would a reviewer make the point of saying someone's *not* a genius? Do you especially think I'm *not* a genius? You didn't even have to think about it, did you?
When watching the best of Wes Anderson’s work (The Royal Tenenbaums, The Darjeeling Limited, Rushmore), there’s an undeniable sense of surrealism, a distinct feeling that what you’re watching couldn’t possibly take place in this reality. Anderson achieves this by catering to every detail of the film - the setting, the names, perhaps most notably, the wardrobe - making his portrayal idealist, over-the-top, cartoonish even. This aspect is most notable in The Royal Tenenbaums, a film following the breakdown and reformation of an eccentric, well-to-do, New York family. Scene after scene there’s a sense of dramatic overload, where Anderson is piling detail upon detail (from his trademark Zippo lighters and Aviators to his tradition of placing distinct or custom labels and brands in nearly every shot) and this is complemented by the soundtrack, one that could not have been more fitting. Coupled with the utter strength of the single tracks themselves, the emotionalism and distinctness of the soundtrack as a whole, with its wide variety, perfectly complements the eccentricities of The Royal Tenenbaums.
Because such weighty moments and individual shots are sprinkled throughout the movie that dictate its flow so handily, the power of the movie as a whole is curbed. Still, Anderson’s ability to create sublimity within the time frame of a minute of two (even if it dilutes the movie wholly) is astounding. Always, it seems, Anderson uses music to perfection to add that last, critical piece to his pictures. Take, for instance, the way “These Days” adds emphasis to what could have been just another piece of the puzzle - Ritchie and Margot’s first meeting in the movie as adults. The frame slows down, yellow rays flood the screen obscuring Ritchie donned with Aviators, arms crossing; and soon enough, Nico and her deep, hollow voice enters, “I’ve been out walking... I don’t do too much talking, these days...”
As a line of perfectly choreographed pilots exits from the glass sliding doors from behind Ritchie, the moment becomes one of incredible serenity. It displays the soundtrack’s immaculately arranged songs, paired with equally poignant cinematic moments.
The other key music/instance blending that Anderson treats the viewer and listener to comes later in The Royal Tenenbaums, and exists as the polar opposite of the sunshine-filled previously mentioned one. With quick transitions, and Elliott’s temperamental whispering, Ritchie Tenenbaum haphazardly shaves his head and promptly saws gashes down his arms with the same razor blade, an attempt to kill himself, in what is the
iconic scene in the film-- iconic mostly due to the power of “Needle in the Hay” and its scarily-affecting complementing ability. Everything else seems minor in comparison, but only due to the sheer power of this clip (followed fittingly by Anderson’s black humor in the exchange between the brothers-- “I wrote a suicide note”... “Well what did it say, is it dark?” “Of course it’s dark it’s a suicide note.” “Well Can I read it?” “No.” “Well can you at least summarize it for us?”). Still, the more subtle inclusions of “Judy is a Punk” (The Ramones) and “Police and Thieves” (The Clash) suit Anderson’s over-the-top style well. Interspersed between the more known tracks are composer’s Mark Mothersbaugh’s interludes, equally appropriate and subdued in the mix, which highlights many well-known cuts.
Without The Royal Tenenbaum’s, Motherbaugh’s rich soundtrack would be fairly hollow, unimportant. Coupled with its companion piece though, and the teamwork of Motherbaugh and Wes Anderson reveal a stunning array of cut-and-scene-coupling that results in a rich ensemble of mulit-medium art. Truly, this is what soundtracks are for
, right? To strengthen and build upon the screenplay and acting. If there is a detriment, it’s that not every moment could be a highlight, as they were limited by plot or other realistic barriers. Notice how there’s no mention of Bob Dylan’s “Wigwam,” or Nick Drake’s “Fly”? While they are deservedly noteworthy tracks, they aren’t necessarily paramount in the film’s context. With this soundtrack’s uncanny originality and consistency, along with two of the most transcendent soundtrack/scene pairing instances I can think of in “These Days” and “Needle In The Hay,” the film’s score is near flawless. It’s hard to not
to mention every affecting moment displayed here, simply because they each have their own oodles of charm (but I can at least mention the Mutato Muzika Orchestra’s rendition of “Hey Jude” as Mordecai is granted freedom… chills run down my spine every time I see it). It’s difficult to imagine the originally planned Elliott Smith cover of “Hey Jude” bogging down the score, but it’s difficult to picture the soundtrack as it exists now any other way. Like symbiotic organisms, The Royal Tenenbaum’s movie and the soundtrack rely and feed off of each other, and both entities are all the better for it.