The Addams family home is all shook up: the kids are playing Marie Antoinette with a real, working guillotine with their new mustachioed baby brother Pubert, and Gomez and Morticia have brought in a new nanny named Debbie to sort them all out. Uncle Fester of course falls madly in love with her.
There’s just one problem. Well, clearly there’s more than one. But the big one, aside from Wednesday and Pugsley trying to kill their baby brother, is that Debbie (Joan Cusack) is a black widow. She has a nasty habit of marrying wealthy men and murdering them on their wedding night. And Fester (Christopher Lloyd) is indeed a wealthy man. Well, he’s wealthy anyway. And he’s smitten.
The rest of the Addams family, not so much. Gomez (Raul Julia) and Morticia (Anjelica Huston) try to wish him well, even when he cuts them out of his life, but little Wednesday (Christina Ricci) and Pugsley (Jimmy Workman), though somewhat neutered by summer camp, are naturally more suspicious. But now that he’s estranged, can anyone possibly reach him before it’s too late?
Addams Family Values is a rare sequel that seems to have gained in momentum from the first. It introduces new characters that add new dimensionality to the family. Fester really comes into his own in this film, and Joan Cusack is an absolute dish. It’s also exceedingly fun to watch the Addams siblings do a sleepaway camp. Never have two people belonged anywhere less. And the way in which they ruin a historically inaccurate play is the absolute most fun. I could watch this as a spin-off all day long. I should also note that Granny gets replaced in the sequel; Carol Kane replaces her. And Carol Kane is god. She’s also younger than Huston, who plays her daughter, but watcha gonna do? Huston gamely gets back into character, and I love the way they’re lighting her face, with just a beam of light across her eyes. It’s so strikingly different from everyone else in the room. And I know I said this last time, but I’ll say it again: Christina Ricci is a child actor tough to outdo. She really nails Wednesday and makes sure the kids aren’t just placeholders in these films.
All told, Addams Family Values good fun. It’s not great, but it’s like training wheels for future horror fanatics and the freaks and creeps in all of us.
The Addams family are a bunch of creeps, goths, freaks, and misfits. Merry makers of mayhem but also a paragon of suburban goals: a husband who adores his wife, a father who dotes on his children, a mother-in-law’s presences embraced and appreciated, children allowed to test the boundaries of their identity, given the space to think deeply and creatively, inventing games and new forms of play. There are few such tight-knit, loving nuclear families depicted on screen today.
Still, the Addams family isn’t quite normal. Mother Morticia (Anjelica Huston) has a sickly pallor and father Gomez (Raul Julia) an obsession with seances. Daughter Wednesday (Christina Ricci) has devised a game called “Is there a god?” and brother Pugsley (Jimmy Workman) allows himself to be electrocuted in its name. The family is attended to by a grunting butler named Lurch (Carel Struycken) and a detached hand. Their fondness for the macabre, and for weaponry in particular, might intimidate most guests, but longtime lawyer Tully (Dan Hedaya) is quite used to their eccentricities, and Gomez’s grief over a 25-year estrangement with brother Fester has left him vulnerable in a way that makes the financially strapped lawyer’s eyes glisten. He enlists an imposter to pose as Fester (Christopher Lloyd) in order to claim the family’s fortune.
Cher wanted the role of Morticia and Kim Basinger briefly had it, but it was Anjelica Huston who had to suffer through the transformation. To give her eyes the signature slant, make-up artists attached strings with spirit gum to the outside corners of her eyes, tugging them to give them a lift, and anchoring the strings to her head. If you think that sounds painful, it’s only because you haven’t yet heard about the metal corset that gave her figure that very structured look. A restrictive dress gives her walk the wiggle. And some neck lifts and long fake nails and you’re almost there.
Meanwhile, I think my favourite performance comes from a very young Christina Ricci, who has to be one of the world’s most consistently good child actors, serving up many iconic roles before she even hit puberty.
The family is unfortunately a little failed by the script, which never quite works as well as it should. But the happy news is, we’re soon to have another dose of our favourite spooky family, in theatres this weekend – an animated version with Oscar Isaac as Gomez, Charlize Theron as Morticia, Chloe Grace Moretz as Wednesday, Finn Wolfhard as Pugsley, Nick Kroll as Fester, Snoop Dogg as It, and more. Lots more. Can’t wait.
Before I say anything else, understand that my mind is busily chewing over a fact that makes me very uncomfortable, namely, the near-uniform whiteness of Wes Anderson’s movies. I love Wes Anderson. I love his movies. But I do not love monochromatic casting. But in thinking on this quite a bit in the past few months, I’ve come to realize that it’s not that he doesn’t hire people of colour, it’s that he doesn’t hire African Americans, rather specifically. In fact, The Royal Tenenbaums may be the only time he’s every hired a black actor for a role of substance (Courtney B. Vance got to narrate Isle of Dogs), and it’s really only to service a racist character, ie, Danny Glover’s only there so that Gene Hackman can call him a long list of slurs. And though Wes Anderson’s worlds are so often populated by the same faces, Glover’s has never reappeared. Hiring someone just to be a target seems particularly cruel. However, Kumar Pallana, an Indian actor, had appeared in 4 of Anderson’s films (he died in 2013 – and was originally a barista in Anderson’s favourite Dallas coffee shop). Waris Ahluwalia, an Indian-born, American Sikh, has been in three. Tony Revolori, the terrific breakout bellboy from The Grand Budapest Hotel, is of Guatemalan descent, though so far he’s appeared in more Spider-man movies than he has in the Wes Anderson universe. There was a smattering of Japanese voice actors in Isle of Dogs, though surprisingly and relatively few considering the whole film takes place in Japan. This isn’t exactly an exhaustive list, but it’s as close as it is short, and between you and I, the minute you start putting together a list of non-white actors, you’ve already lost. That’s 9 terrific, talky, thinky, inventive pieces of cinema with incredible ensemble casts and insane attention to detail and just 1 solitary black man, necessary to the script to be the recipient of a grumpy old man’s careless racist remarks. It’s a terrible tally.
And it’s too bad that Anderson’s movies have this problem because otherwise they’d be 100% my jam.
The Tenenbaums are a fascinatingly dysfuntional family. Matriarch Etheline (Anjelica Huston) raised her 3 children to be exceptional after her lousy husband Royal (Gene Hackman) left. Chas Tenenbaum was a prodigy investor, successfully running businesses out of his childhood bedroom. Now he’s a recent widower and fresh trauma has him raising his own sons in a constant state of terror. Margot Tenenbaum was a prodigy playwright, earning prizes and praise as a child for her mature writing. Today she’s literally soaking in depression as her husband Raleigh (Bill Murray) knocks helplessly on the bathroom door. Richie Tenenbaum (Luke Wilson) was a tennis prodigy hopelessly in love with his sister, Margot. He had a career-ending meltdown when Margot married Raleigh, and he’s spent the time since sailing the world, keeping oceans between himself and his family. Eli (Owen Wilson) is the boy next door who grew up gazing upon the relative privilege of the Tenenbaum family, wishing to belong to them. And of course Henry Sherman (Glover) is Etheline’s new suitor and the family’s disruptor.
Broke, homeless, with hackles raised about the new man prowling about, Royal Tenenbaum decides to home after decades away. They won’t have him of course. He spent years disappointing his family before being completely estranged from them. So his only move is to fake cancer as a ploy to gain sympathy – and even that’s a tough sell. But it gets him back in the family home, and one by one the grown children all return to orbit around him. They’re all fucked up in their own ways, but they’ve also got an extremely fucked up dynamic together. They’re a bunch of fire starters just waiting for a match, and Royal is a goddamned flame thrower. Whoosh.
It’s a movie full of quirks that still manages to be cohesive and sell a cogent story about a family full of tragedies. Betrayal lurks in every closet, disaster through every doorway. And even though it contains perhaps Anderson’s bleakest scene ever (set to Elliott Smith’s Needle in the Hay), it’s not all doom and gloom. There are plenty of laughs, but also some actual heartfelt moments. The movie is an act of forgiveness, a representation of forgiveness being a gift you give yourself, to set yourself free from the past and the pain it causes you. Royal may be irredeemable but his family is not. They’re deeply flawed and chronically eccentric, but the script searches authenticity and finds it in abundance.
Though the role of Royal was written with Hackman in mind, it was offered to Gene Wilder, who turned it down.
Danny Glover’s look in the film was modeled after U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, which is possibly my favourite sentence in the world.
There is no such thing as Dalmatian mice; the spots were drawn on with Sharpies.
Anjelica Huston wears Wes Anderson’s mother’s glasses in the film.
The hand that is seen with the BB lodged between its knuckles is not Ben Stiller’s, it’s Andrew Wilson’s (yes, brother to Luke and Owen). It’s no trick, he really has a BB stuck in there and has since childhood. Can you guess which one of his brothers shot him?
I turned to Sean at one point to say that there were a lot of Beatles songs in the film. In fact, Ruby Tuesday was playing at the moment, which is by the Stones, as I’m sure you’re aware, and as I myself am normally aware, though my brain was clearly existing in some alternate reality at the time. There is a Beatles song, and a John Lennon one, and four from the Stones. Brain fart.
Stream of conscious watching a Wes Anderson movie:
Already loving the quirky little score, borrowed heavily from Indian films, as the pedi-cab races toward the train station.
Less than 3 minutes into the film and we’ve already left poor Bill Murray behind. Why do I feel guilty though? Peter (Adrian Brody) races by him, hopping on the train right before it leaves the station. Stupid Adrian Brody.
Peter’s brother Jack (Jason Schwartzman) has at least 8 pieces of luggage. A lovely set of course, but for ease of travel, perhaps he should consider one larger case rather than a bunch of oddly shaped little ones?
Their third brother, Francis (Owen Wilson), arrives with a busted face and a very strict schedule to find the path to spirituality, plus an unseen assistant with a laminating machine to keep things on course. The 3 brothers have not seen each other in a year.
The brothers exchange unprescribed but over-the-counter drugs. It is immediately obvious why they might have avoided one another for a year.
Is it really a think to walk barefoot on trains in India? That creeps me out. There must be a special kind of athlete’s foot you get from the stinky carpeting.
Francis has so many rules for his brother that I’m starting to feel vicariously oppressed.
No wonder their mother (Anjelica Huston) hasn’t joined them: who would willing submit to this road trip with the world’s most sulky, dopey, resentful brothers?
The train scenes are shot on an actual moving train, moving from Jodhpur to Jaisalmer, through the Thar desert. They requisitioned 10 rain cars and a locomotive, which Wes Anderson redecorated to his aesthetic. Nothing could be attached to the ceiling, and equipment couldn’t hang more than a meter out the windows.
How can the train be lost? It’s on rails!
Francis has just revealed their secret destination: to visit their mother, who has become a nun and is living in a convent in the Himalayas. Their visit may or may not be welcome.
With such militant scheduling, it’s kind of miraculous that they remain late for the train every damn time.
Turns out there are 11 pieces of luggage; they were designed for the film by Marc Jacobs by Louis Vuitton.
Kicked off the train, the 3 brothers and their copious luggage are traveling along a path when they see a raft carrying 3 kids overturn. The brothers plunge into the waters to save them, but one is dashed against rocks and killed. The look on Adrian Brody’s face when he says “I didn’t save mine” – oof, that’s real acting right there.
I like this custom of the father washing his son’s body before the funeral. I think Western cultures are too detached from death. There’s a tragic tenderness to this scene, just a few seconds of film, actually, that really moves me.
Francis implies that his wounds are actually self-inflicted in a suicide attempt, which is particularly hard to bear since Owen Wilson was taken off the press tour for this movie after his own suicide attempt.
The master cleanse is a cuckoo-for-cocoa-puffs fad diet wherein some idiot eats nothing and drinks only a “juice” made from water, lemon, maple syrup, and cayenne pepper and actually believes that their body is benefiting. Instead of, you know, being completely nutritionally deprived.
In the movie The Master Cleanse, the inventor, Ken Roberts, has pledged to take this purification further – let’s not just detoxify our bodies, but also our souls. And like all high end products and really good, safe ideas, it’s advertised on late-night infomercials.
Who is up late at night with only a bowl of Cheetos for company, that awful orange dust thickly coating his remote, trolling the airwaves for a quick fix for his spiritual malaise? None other than down-on-his-luck Paul (Johnny Galecki), recently (though not THAT recently) dumped and unemployed, living one functioning toilet above squalor. While the promise of a free retreat from a disembodied voice on our televisions might raise a red flag for most of us, Paul diligently irons his only suit to make the best impression.
A small group, including struggling actress Maggie (Anna Friel), and a squabbling young couple, are taken out to a remote wooded area. Bombastic Lily (Anjelica Huston) is their fearless leader, and bids them to drink special juice formulated just for them. That juice leads them to the crucial elimination phase, where all of their hurt, disappointment and trauma are physically eliminated…and that emotional baggage just happens to look like a cute little creature.
The dark woods, the derelict cabins, the mysterious cult leader Ken (Oliver Platt)…director Bobby Miller has all the trappings of a horror, and indeed you’ve unconsciously braced yourself for something terrible for quite some time. At a special screening at Fantasia Film Festival, Miller said that at first wallowing in sadness is cute – that Ben & Jerry’s, sweat pants phase. But if left unchecked, your emotional baggage just grows and grows, and threatens to overwhelm. Miller’s film gets pretty serious about those consequences. This is body horror with a pulsing conscience.
There is no mathematical way in which any equation involving both toilets and horror should add up to something enjoyable, at least for me, but this did. Miller’s got some magic slipped in there somewhere, perhaps in his confidence even as a first time director in sticking with character and theme while being quite conservative in the gross-out department. It’s a lot more melancholic than you’d expect, even sympathetic, but the message is clear: shortcuts to happiness can leave you literally lost in the woods.