The Royal Tenenbaums hadn’t been “a thing” in years. Plenty of other so-called lust-worthy emblems of the damaged goods girl with the distinct, waifish look had succeeded Margot Tenenbaum, including, but not limited to, Natalie Portman as Sam in Garden State, Kate Winslet as Clementine Kruczynski in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Charlotte Gainsbourg as Stéphanie in The Science of Sleep. And then there were all those who preceded Margot, including, but not limited to, Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly, Diane Keaton as Annie Hall and Kate Hudson as Penny Lane. On a side note: American cinema makes black women seem far more psychologically well-adjusted (except when the plot of the movie is about cheating). And yet, in spite of this wealth of flawed, mentally unsound females to choose from, somehow, it seemed Margot was the one who had taken on a special place among the insignia of male hipsters, usually ones with a secret hidden yearning for their sibling.
I had forgotten about Gwyneth Paltrow’s only redeeming role by 2014, a time when Wes Anderson was distracting devoted audiences from his previous work with his then latest, The Grand Budapest Hotel. And the only “manic pixie dream girl” in theaters that year was, at best, Angelina Jolie as Maleficent. Thus, for me to walk into a man’s room after our fifth date, expecting to find a fully furnished, sparsely decorated space, and, instead, discover the largest collection of Margot Tenenbaum paintings (not in the style of Richie Tenenbaum) ever gathered in a single room was, to use understatement, a shock. The entire time I had been seeing Owen (his name being yet another cosmic tie he had to the film), I was laboring under the false impression that he was that rare breed of New York City human: not insane. We had met at a networking event for film reviewers at a bar in Bed-Stuy. Jean, the toad-physiqued—to be expected of a film enthusiast’s body—organizer of the function, had decided to pair people off to work on an assignment at the end of the night by asking them what their favorite Wes Anderson movie was. Over the years, The Royal Tenenbaums had become less and less of a fan favorite, with other, more glittering options like The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou and Moonrise Kingdom ascending the ranks of more acceptable answers for their “lack of predictability.” But I still maintained that, yes, The Royal Tenenbaums was Anderson’s masterwork. So, too, did Owen. But no one else at the event, apparently. Jean used our “special” match to give us a film writing assignment that would examine how New York plays a distinguishing role in the movie, addressing why Anderson made a rare exception in setting the narrative here, never again opting for the most hated and loved city as the backdrop for any other of his films. We were to reconvene in a week and compare notes.
A week had gone by, and I hadn’t heard from Owen. I assumed he wasn’t as serious about networking or cinema as I was. I wrapped up writing the piece and decided to submit it to a few places for consideration, including Film Comment and PopMatters. I had a tendency to be incapable of writing for the sake of writing. I needed it to be seen. Antithetical to Margot, master of secrets and subterfuge—playing it all close to the vest. The more I thought about her, the clearer it became that men yearned for her not just because of how badly she needed to be rescued, but because of how little she revealed. I could never be that way, which was perhaps why I had so little success with the millennial male set. Pondering this fatal flaw of mine while I poured myself a glass of red wine, my self-pitying reverie was interrupted by the sound of my phone ringing—a sound that had become foreign to me not just because of the century I lived in, but because of how few people would desire to carry on a conversation with me. My life was film, and that doesn’t leave much room for making friends (unless, one supposes, you’re at a Paul Reubens type of movie theater). Curious about who could be at the giving end of this phone call, I answered breathily, “Hello?”
“Evangeline. It’s Owen.”
My stomach dropped a bit. The excitement over male contact of this nature was prompting a bodily response I couldn’t control.
“Hey Owen. I thought you might have forgotten about me.” I rolled my eyes at myself.
“No, no. I’m ready to compare notes if you are. Would you like to meet somewhere?”
“Um…sure. Where do you live?”
“Harlem. Same area as the Tenenbaum house actually.”
And the dead giveaways about his obsession just kept coming. And I just kept choosing to ignore them.
I schlepped all the way from Brooklyn to meet him at the Anchor Wine Bar, where he awaited me dressed in a smoking jacket and white linen pants. Again, I saw no red flags.
He kissed my cheek and said, “Good to see you again Evangeline.”
“Yeah, you too.”
He sat down and pulled out roughly three pieces of stapled together paper. “This is for your review.”
The title was “New York & The Royal Tenenbaums: An Understated Love Affair.”
I scanned through it. “Seems very…thorough,” I noted as I caught a line that mentioned how Anderson didn’t want to include any overly specific New York landmarks in his film so that it would still seem a universe unto itself.
I looked back up at Owen. “Do you mind if I read this later? I could really use a drink.”
“Of course, of course. Take your time with it.”
“I didn’t bring my article with me, I’m sorry to say. I’ve already submitted it anyway.”
“Oh. Well, I’d still like to see it.”
I nodded. “Okay.”
A palpable lull came over the table. We had run out of ground to cover without The Royal Tenenbaums. But then it occurred to me that he was a cinephile and I decided to lead in with another movie title: Nights of Cabiria.
“Yes, it’s a fantastic film. Maybe even Fellini’s best.”
“Now you’re just saying that.”
“No, really. There’s more honesty to Giulietta Masina’s character in that movie than in any of Fellini’s others.”
Suddenly, I felt at ease. I had found a counterpart to mirror my obsession and love of what commoners would call esoteric. After that night, the relationship blossoming between Owen and me accelerated. We alternated between going to one another’s boroughs for dinner and a movie, usually something from the neorealist or French New Wave genre. And finally, by the sixth get-together, Owen had asked me to come to his apartment. It seemed so proper, so old-fashioned—his slow weaseling into my heart.
Now we find ourselves back at the beginning of my tale, which actually turns out to be the middle (and maybe someday I’ll tell you about the end). Upon closing my jaw in response to the surfeit of Margot Tenenbaum paintings, I went through with having sex with Owen, pretending as though there was nothing wrong with Gwyneth Paltrow’s raccooned eyes staring at me with a cigarette inserted between her middle and wooden ring finger. It seemed to me as though she was critiquing my performance, urging me to be more aloof, less accommodating.
Owen orgasmed in the span of five minutes, holding me in his arms afterward as we both fell asleep. Or at least, he did. I was left with Margot, continuing to stare at me with the judgment of a Beverly Hills sales associate. I blinked when I saw her smile at me, her lips curling up into a holier-than-thou smirk. Soon, all of the Margots in the room were peeling themselves out of their paintings; some were in simple striped polo dresses, while others wore fur coats.
“Come on Evangeline. Let’s go.”
Unquestioningly, I put on my clothes and followed them out into the Harlem night. Out in the open, I counted about thirty of them. Their languid, yet sultry gaits combined to create a morbid procession down the street. I had no idea where they could possibly be taking me.
I soon found out it was the airport. We were going to Papua New Guinea, a place that, as it turned out, was Margot’s favorite among all the locations presented in her file. A part of me wanted to resist, knowing that they wouldn’t have as many movies to go to there—and yet, the more adventurous side of me knew this is what I had to do. I had obviously come into Owen’s bedroom for a reason, and it was to go with Margot. Sure, I kind of despised her, but it was solely because she had the ability to captivate men’s hearts on an eternal basis. Maybe if I accompanied her, I could learn to do the same. Or at least get a tan.