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Royal Tenenbaums, The (2001)

And let's not forget Danny Glover as the interested accountant
And let's not forget Danny Glover as the interested accountant

Genre: Comedy Drama

Starring: Gene Hackman (The ConversationThe French Connection), Anjelica Huston (Buffalo ‘66The Addams Family)

Directed By: Wes Anderson (The Fantastic Mr. FoxThe Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou)

Overview: 22 years after Royal Tenenebaum left his wife, he returns with the news that he’s dying. Royal wants to come home for a few weeks and gather his family around him, those now-adult once child prodigies, their eccentric dysfunctions and all.

The point of The Royal Tenenbaums is wackiness. Not a balls-out horn-honking wonky screwball goof-fest, but a subtler, more elite highborn humour of the strange that will have you softly tittering in your kerchief, perhaps even giving a polite golf-clap as the wittier moments unfold. The poster for this movie is a glorious representation of what - or rather who – this movie’s about. The wealth the Tenenbaums don’t quite have isn’t proudly displayed - there’s no tuxedos and long cigarette holders. Instead we’re shown a garish display of the eccentricities of the characters written by Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson. A stiffly-bearded Bill Murray in the corner, a hawk, a beagle, a trifecta of surly tracksuited males, a lounging cowboy, Gwyneth Paltrow sulking with a wooden finger. Then, in the back, we have Gene Hackman in the role of Royal, quite obviously shattering the stiff upper crust with an ebullience that ultimately is part of his problem. There’ve been very few movie posters that have so perfectly tapped into characters as the one for The Royal Tenenbaums. It’s incredible. Luckily the film is pretty damn awesome too.
 As gothic as the rich come...
As gothic as the rich come...

With a vibrant colour scheme and narrated with poise and distinction by Alec Baldwin, the film eases us into the bizarre world of the New York elite and one of the families who live in it. For director Wes Anderson, The Royal Tenenbaums is the best of his Rushmore / Life Aquatic / Darjeeling Limited style films. His characters aren’t ridiculously unbelievable, they’re written with punch while still being rooted in the familiar. Fundamentally this is a Drama with elements of dry comedy. This way the heavier elements are made soft and the goofball potential is washed away. It’s strength, and by far my favourite part of the film, is our introduction to the characters 22 years ago. The Tenenbaum family is explored, including the children: Chas Tenenbaum is a business genius, Margot, a precocious playwright and Richie is a tennis champion. Laying down a perfect foundation for the rest of the film, I wanted this nigh-montage prologue to continue. This intro had an almost Edward Gorey air of gothic upper-classity that made these vignettes fun and yet mildly ominous. When we jump to them as adults 22 years later, we chuckle at how they’ve changed, or rather at how they haven’t. Another great aspect of The Royal Tenenbaums is that the present day adults are not merely bland extensions of their childhood selves. Chas isn’t some obvious CEO workaholic, Margot doesn’t even write anymore, and Richie’s life has completely changed as well. These people’s lives have developed differently, with the divorce obviously being one of the reasons. Today, with the family reunited for various reasons, we explore the current state of these once-prodigies and their entourage, following a complicated assemblage of vignettes in a completely entertaining near-plotless tale save for the day-to-day unfolding crises, but due to frequent resolutions the movie feels like it’s going somewhere.
 The whole movie is filled with this bombastic set design!
The whole movie is filled with this bombastic set design!

Performance: 9 Cinematography: 9 Script: 7 Plot: 7 Mood: 9

Overall Rating: 82% (You’ll Be Richer For It)

The biggest - and it's actually a big one - complaint I have was the ‘climactic ending’, which chose a dramatic route that seemed more like a forced hook it didn’t need. It was so disjointed from the other scenes that it felt like it came from some producer who needed some oomph before he could let the credits roll on The Royal Tenenbaums. In fact, the dramatic ending bored me, souring what was otherwise a very memorable, very fun film.

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