There’s a brilliant feat currently available for your viewing pleasure on Youtube: a trailer for the Addams Family recut to look like it was made by filmmaker Wes Anderson. This clever editing exercise by an anonymous Youtube user suggests that Anderson may be on the brink of a transition away from cult status and into the realm of the known. Is his hitherto super-sucessful formula on the brink of being publicly and recognisably outed?
The trailer for Barry Sonnenfeld’s classic 1991 movie has been re-painted with Anderson’s trademark palate, which takes us back to when techni-colour had just come on the scene. His tableaus of upper class suburban woe and coming of age highjacks are invariably crafted in these warm and reassuring tones. No matter how cold or distant the members of his dysfunctional families become, they retain a certain charm for the viewer because they’re just so darned nice to look at. It also features shots of Angela Huston as Morticia mooning enigmatically in the background, dressed the same as always, the children at her side. Exactly right, since the females in Anderson’s movies have a marked tendency towards mournful mooning. It’s the husbands and sons who are compelled off on quirky adventures and who furnish the plot with the eccentric outbursts on which it turns. The job of Anderson’s women is to look on, cool, wry, stoic. Think of Fantastic Mr Fox’s wife, who keeps house, washes dishes and turns a blind eye while Mr Fox goes off on a chicken-hunting ego trip. Think of Mrs Zissou milling around in The Life Aquatic whilst Mr Zissou goes shark-hunting.
The Addams Family is an interesting choice for a send-up of Anderson’s work, because it highlights a perhaps hitherto unrecognised parallel between the two. The Addams Family tells the story of a lost relative, Uncle Fester, returning home to the family after having suffered a bout of amnesia and ending up in the Bermuda Triangle. It sounds like a tale Wes Anderson could have written. And point of fact, both Anderson and The Addams Family are engaged in the same project: making fun of American suburbia. The makers of the Addams Family had it comparatively easy as they could just invert the ordinary markers of suburban life (so we see Morticia gardening, as we might expect of an upper middle class housewife, except she snips the heads off the roses and arranges the remaining stems in a vase). These days, the concept of suburbia has been mined so extensively that no-one takes it for granted anymore. In fact, the idea of the nuclear family living behind a picket fence and well-tended rose garden is becoming increasingly alien. And this is where Wes Anderson has deftly picked up the contemporary American project, nudging his attractively fumbly and depressive characters towards a new horizon.
Let us hope that Anderson continues in this fashion and that he doesn’t, like so many film makers before him, disappoint by settling on a filmic repertoire and repeating the same old tricks.
Wes Anderson’s new film, Moonrise Kingdom, is released in the UK on Friday 25th May.