Confessions of a Wes Anderson Fangirl

It’s shocking for me to realize that The Royal Tenenbaums came out 12 years ago. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen the movie since, but I distinctly remember the first. Near the end of its theater run, The Royal Tenenbaums came to the dollar theater near Mary’s house. The two of us went to a late-evening showing; the seats were pretty empty. I’m not sure that either one of us really knew what to expect, but we settled in.

Do you know the scene, near the beginning of the movie, where Ben Stiller’s character runs a fire drill at his house?

Mary and I started cracking up. Busting out loud, cannot-stop laughter. But one thing we both noticed — no one else in the theater laughed.

We were astounded. I mean, this shit was funny. The whole movie was. I mean, yes, it had its dark moments, but there was a lot of comedy mixed in with the drama. Why was no one else laughing? Fortunately, their sour grapes didn’t affect our enjoyment. This was an introduction to a slightly off-kilter, sometimes cartoonish, always heartfelt world, where it was totally normal for men and their sons to wear matching red track suits.

Ever since that day, The Royal Tenenbaums has been one of my favorite movies — and it turned me into a fervent Wes Anderson fan. Yes, his movies are twee and quirky and sometimes overly precocious, but I love the worlds he creates, the characters he presents, the quiet yet powerful stories he tells. Over the years I waited with mounting excitement for each new movie release: The Life Aquatic, Darjeeling Limited (his weak spot, in my opinion), Fantastic Mr. Fox. I celebrated each and every one — and the best part? It still felt like my thing. Most of the people around me weren’t that into Anderson’s movies. That meant they were all for me.

And then Moonrise Kingdom arrived.

I agree with most of the critics: Moonrise Kingdom is probably Anderson’s best work. Its leads are relatable, its twee-ness is kept in check, the setting is sublime. And, of course, the whole world went apeshit over it. I mean, how could they not? It was all-in-all just a perfect movie. Suddenly everyone was talking about Wes Anderson. It was like the world had suddenly discovered bacon for the first time. OH MY GOD HAVE YOU TRIED THIS THING I JUST DISCOVERED IT AND IT IS NEW AND INCREDIBLE.

And now the trailer for his next movie has arrived, The Grand Budapest Hotel. And I mean, duh — it looks great. Ralph Fiennes looks hilarious. And oh hello, Bill Murray, yes I still love your dry Andersonian roles. Eddie Norton, glad to see that you’ve joined the Anderson Usual Suspects, you’re a welcome addition. Just like all the previous Anderson movies, I’m incredibly excited to sit my butt down in a theater seat and watch this one.

And yet — the trailer makes me a little sad. Because everyone is flipping out about it. Everyone is excited about this movie. Everyone “can’t wait” to see it. Everyone is suddenly a Wes Anderson fangirl. And just like that, a little bit of the magic slips away.

Now, I hope it goes without saying, but I am incredibly pleased for Wes Anderson and his success. I don’t want this post to read like sour grapes. I get the impression he’s worked very hard to get where he’s at, and God how fantastic it must be to see that hard work pay off in spades.

But of course, this is not a rational feeling. It’s just the way it is with anything you really, truly love. You feel it is yours—and only yours. No one else can possibly experience it as profoundly and intimately as you. It’s why people get so up-in-arms about movie adaptation of novels and comic books—you worry that others will muddy the waters, will wreak havoc on this thing that you love. You don’t want the world to embrace it. It has already been embraced whole-heartedly by you.

Clearly, there’s no solution here. The world now loves Wes Anderson. It’s an issue I’ll just have to deal with. Nothing will ever be quite as pure as that first blush of love, but that doesn’t mean it’s done and over. After all, Royal, we still have the dollar theater.

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When Movies Beat Words

I’ve always been a visual learner. Try to explain something to me audibly, and chances are I’ll say, “Can you write that down?” I need to see something in order to get it.

My stories play out the same way. Before I write them, I typically “see” them in my head. And, ok — IT’S NOT THAT WEIRD. I’m gonna guess it’s actually pretty common (fellow writers, yes?). I see the characters, see the lighting, feel the mood, figure out how the scene plays out. And only after that do I figure out how to describe that scene in words.

In this way, movies are sometimes — sometimes — the better storytelling format. Some scenes you can’t effectively put into words. Hell, some scenes are most effective without words. And, you know, if you’re writing? That’s a conundrum.

Oddly enough, these scenes are the ones that stick with me, that inspire me to be a better storyteller. I want to dissect them and figure out exactly why they’re so effective. They’re the ones my brain returns to again and again for inspiration.

Three scenes in particular come to mind, ones that I always press “rewind” to watch again and study. And yes, haters to the left — two of them are Wes Anderson.

This one comes from The Royal Tenenbaums (probably my favorite movie of all time). I love the lighting. I love the slow-motion silence as Margot Tenenbaum steps off the Green Line. I love the row of uniformed sailors behind Richie, stepping in time to the music. I love that you immediately know — without any words said — that these two characters are intensely, hopelessly in love.

500 Days of Summer is a GREAT movie for any writer to study. The way the timeline jumps around could have been hoaky but ends up 100% making the movie. A good example of how to mix up an otherwise pretty straightforward story.

But enough about the movie on the whole — we’re talkin’ THIS SCENE. Which I love. It so perfectly captures that feeling of being on top of the world, when everything is going your way and nothing, no one can stop you. Could this emotion be captured in words? Sure. But I don’t think as well (although if anyone has an example, I’d love to see it).

Oh what’s that? ANOTHER Royal Tenenbaums clip? I warned you, it’s my favorite. And this scene, THIS scene is my favorite scene from any movie, ever:

I don’t even know if I can count how many times I’ve watched this bit. And ok, yes — I realize it’s super depressing. But it’s also amazingly beautiful. The meticulous way Richie cuts his beard. The moody blue lighting interrupted by red. And the music — I mean, let’s face it.  The music makes this scene what it is.

That’s really the one thing these scenes have in common — great music. That’s one area where books can’t compete — there’s no soundtrack. Although I DO think this could be changing. The spring 2013 edition of Kinfolk magazine featured a story with a bar code. Using your phone to scan the bar scode, you could download a song specially written to be played while you read that story. I’ve gotta say, it was pretty damn cool and makes me excited for how we tell stories in the future.

Are there any particular movie scenes that inspire you? Which ones, and why?