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The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) Touchstone Pictures
1 hr. 52 mins.
Starring: Ben Stiller, Gene Hackman, Anjelica Huston, Owen Wilson and Gwyneth Paltrow.
Directed by: Wes Anderson


The Royal Tenenbaums

Rating:

  E-MAIL GIANCARLO DE LISI

Photo: Touchstone Pictures


In order to fully appreciate and savour Wes Anderson's fruitful new film, one must possess a twisted and wicked sense of humour. 'The Royal Tenenbaums' is Anderson's third film and is by far his most complex, darkest and ambitious piece. After 'Bottle Rocket' and the irresistible 'Rushmore'; he delivers never before seen bravura performances from his entire cast as he weaves a daunting portrayal of one of the most dysfunctional cinematic families in a long time.

Gene Hackman plays Royal Tenenbaums with incredible zest. After discovering he is suffering from a life-threatening disease, he therefore sets out and attempts at reuniting with his estranged family. His estranged children were all once child prodigies and now all live dysfunctional lives attributed to his abandonment when his former wife (Anjelica Huston) requested a divorce. Among Royal's prodigies include Ben Stiller who plays Chas. An arrogant and security-obsessed father with a bb gun bullet lodged in his hand who constantly fears for the safety of his two young look alike boys. Luke Wilson plays Richie; a tennis master who suffered from a meltdown due to an unattainable attraction. Then there is the adopted daughter, a seemingly empty Margot Helen (played with perfect bleak gloominess by Gwyneth Paltrow). Adopted from the age of two, this adventuress is an award-winning playwright who attributes her unsatisfactory life to her adopted father's introducing her as 'My adopted daughter…'

Each of these complex and detailed characters is conveniently introduced through Anderson's introductory musical montage sequence where in a matter of moments we are introduced to the cast. Included in this constellation of prestigious actors are Owen Wilson as Eli and a fully bearded Bill Murray as Raleigh St. Clair, an amusing doctor who consistently mopes around with his favourite experimental patient.

It is important to understand that this not a straight forward drama nor a laugh out loud comedy. In its' fullest essence; this alternative film is an endearing, touching, dark and anti-clinical observation of a dysfunctional family and how its' members inter-relate. The true beauty of this film lies primarily in the subtle manner in which this overwhelming amount of information is presented.

The previous paragraph may seem contradictorial to many but in viewing the film analytically, this film at its' core is really about renewing lost family values. The primary difference lies in Anderson's off-kilter storytelling perspectives that flawlessly blend drama and comedy while displaying this renewal. That is where many may spot an unfavourable trait. Anderson's films in the past have spread upon two extremities. Those who understand his films and those who gawk at what seems like banter. While it isn't as aggressive as his two previous films, this piece is a tender one at heart. Yet, while I will state that 'Rushmore' is still my favourite Anderson film, this film will be heralded as a great follow-up.

'The Royal Tennenbaums' is delicately developed and lets the characters tell the story rather than events. Also noteworthy is Anderson's ability to blend music with imagery to evoke emotion. Along the likes of Cameron Crowe and the musical offerings in his films, Anderson presents us with some classic tunes that protrude through the screen with emotion in order to make us fully understand the range of emotions these characters undergo.

Through flashbacks, we see what these children really were and we see how and why their father's abandonment caused their decay in which the hatred is based upon. Through a delicate unravelling of all these three prodigies' inner most secrets, we see that there is much more than their simple, grim appearance.

This is where Anderson's genius can be found. From a script by Anderson and Owen Wilson (Eli), we can see that these characters are not the sort of people one would run into everyday. Their appearance is slightly off, their wardrobe is slightly off and their genuine affection or dislike of their father is so pure that it seeps through the screen and provides us with a thorough understanding. These are all various elements of Anderson's slightly off kilter and subtle piece about this dysfunctional family.

The term alternative is used because with every film, Anderson seems to concoct and carry forward with a unique and alternative. This film is divided into chapters. With narration by Alec Baldwin, the film divides into an introduction, as well as chapters and an epilogue. In viewing closely the first words in each chapter reading, one can see that the words describe the exact opening scene of that segment of the film, which provides a fresh tactic in developing the style and tone of the film.

In appreciating this film, there will be an objective and subjective viewpoint. Those who lean on the objective and classify the film for its' script, style and movement will probably be turned off by Anderson's alternative ways. Yet those who view the film in a subjective manner and attach themselves to this film personally will find the film quite nostalgic and satisfying. That is the feeling I received after exiting the screening. For evidence, one needs to replay the final sequence at a burial in the film where the family is once again reunited. The characters are together in a display of remorse, affection and finally admiration. And those who understand this film will have nothing but that for Anderson's affectionate family study.

Click here to comment on this review or post your own thoughts.

Giancarlo De Lisi
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