The Royal Tenenbaums

Review No. 390


The Bottom Line: Royal.

Directed by: Wes Anderson
Written by: Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson
Royal Tenenbaum: Gene Hackman
Etheline Tenenbaum: Anjelica Huston
Chas Tenenbaum: Ben Stiller
Margot Tenenbaum: Gwyneth Paltrow
Richie Tenenbaum: Luke Wilson
Eli Cash: Owen Wilson
Henry Sherman: Danny Glover
Raleigh St. Clair: Bill Murray
Pagoda: Kumar Pallana
Dusty: Seymour Cassel
Also Starring: Amedeo Turturro, Andrew Wilson, Aram Aslanian-Persico, Irene Gorovaia, James Fitzgerald
Narrated by: Alec Baldwin

Distributed by Touchstone Pictures on December 14, 2001. Produced in English by the United States. Runs 109 minutes. Rated R by the MPAA for some language, sexuality/nudity and drug content.

The Royal Tenenbaums was watched on January 13, 2013.

“Why would a reviewer make the point of saying someone’s NOT a genius? Do you especially think I’m NOT a genius? You didn’t even have to think about it, did you?” –Eli (Owen Wilson)

Writer-director Wes Anderson is a walking contradiction. His quirky, comedic-dramatic style is completely original due to the specific style on which it relies; yet it’s so broadly recognizable, it’s almost a genre of its own. Thematically, Anderson’s filmography is a flat, continuous line, composed of a substance he’s relied on since 1996; but each entry, as a disambiguation, is something just as candid and new as the one that preceded it. His abstract is usually small-town, quiet, and familiar to just about anyone; while the canon he is continuously developing features some of Hollywood’s most prestigious names. You see where I’m going here?

Anderson opens up The Royal Tenenbaums with just as much absurdity. The narration straightforwardly and amusingly constructs the tale of a family full of prodigies. The Tenenbaums. As children, they seem fine, isolated around a large house as they work on their tremendously implausible talents.

Fast-forward twenty years. These children are grown, some married, all moved out into different homes than one another. They’re just as unaware of each others’ existence as they were at any prior age, just as understanding of each other as predator to prey. We suddenly realize how estranged they all are.

None of the Tenenbaums realize this depressing truth until the patriarch, Royal Tenenbaum, announces that he has cancer. All of a sudden, these brothers and sisters are forced to love, let alone meet each other in a matter of six weeks. They simply cannot face what it means to be a family, as if addicted to dysfunction. Some try and escape, but only end up with physical injuries, injuries more apparent to them than the ones that have brutally scarred them all since their respective births.

The Royal Tenenbaums is Wes Anderson’s genius at hard work. Save for the ending—a predictable and over-rushed affair—his and Owen Wilson’s joint-effort screenplay is a brilliant paragon of comedy-drama. The setup doesn’t seem like much when it first appears in the first five minutes of the film. It seems like a quirky elaboration on several children ready to win Noble Prizes at any moment.

But there’s much more to it. What our co-writers are doing is making us care about the characters and their stories early on. What does it matter? Once the tragedy is realized, there is a deeply human amalgamation of dark humor and emotion. The Royal Tenenbaums is thus a heavy parable, focusing directly on the further issues created by a dysfunctional family, where laughing and crying go hand-in-hand.

“Anybody interested in grabbing a couple of burgers and hittin’ the cemetery?” –Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman)



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