When Bottle Rocket was first released in 1996 it was hard to imagine just how Wes Anderson would ever be able to outdo himself. It was feared that Anderson, like Kevin Smith, Bryan Singer and a myriad of other young talented directors before him, had peaked too soon, producing his best work at the first time of asking. But fortunately for both him and us, his 1998 tour de force, Rushmore, proved such fears to be completely groundless. Hence, third movie expectations were high. And when it was revealed that the new film would boast a cast as diverse as Gene Hackman, Angelica Huston, Ben Stiller, Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, Gwyneth Paltrow, Danny Glover and Bill Murray anticipation went through the roof. But was the finished article worth the wait or is The Royal Tenenbaums blue blood in name alone?
Opening to a minimalist cover of the Beatles' 'Hey Jude', Anderson's latest offering begins in 1979 with the separation of chain smoking patriarch Royal Tenenbaum (Hackman) from his long-suffering wife Etheline (Huston) and their three wunderkinds; temperamental business entrepreneur Chas, morose prize-winning playwright Margot and artistic tennis ace Ritchie.
Flash forward a few decades and we find that the Tenebaums have become a family in anguish, an institution so torn apart by years of lies, betrayals and failures that to label it dysfunctional almost seems too soft an option. The recently widowed Chas (Stiller) is an emotional wreck, obsessed with the safety of his two young boys he dresses them in matching tracksuits, forces them to exercise daily and generally denies them a normal childhood existence. Margot (Paltrow) no longer writes plays, instead she sits in the bath for hours on end, secretly smoking and watching television while her estranged older husband (Murray) conducts strange psychological tests on a young patient in a room next door. Ritchie (Luke Wilson) has become a recluse, a failed former tennis champion who now travels the world by ship and only communicates with his family via telegram. And the parents are no better off. Etheline, having agreed to marry her accountant Henry Sherman (Glover), is hopelessly immersed in her work, allowing the better parts of life slip her by while Royal has fallen on extremely bad times, having been disbarred (he's a litigation lawyer by profession), made bankrupt and evicted from his luxury hotel apartment. He plans to reunite his alienated family, get back with Etheline and find himself somewhere new to live. How? Simple, he announces that he only has six weeks left to live and moves back into his old family home.
Thankfully void of any kind of moral hypocrisy, Anderson's unsentimental film chooses to replace Hollywood's usual pseudo-philosophical bite-sized pieces of wisdom with sublime, unassuming moments of truth. There are no spotlight hogging stars and no prima donnas looking for a date with Oscar. Instead what Anderson's gifted ensemble cast offer us is an intelligent, imaginative, and highly original exploration of that most intimate of all human institutions. For such a large ensemble, there is a striking lack of ego on screen, each actor seemingly happy to let the other shine. As a whole the cast are truly awesome and it nonetheless remains a mystery as to why they didn't receive some kind of industry recognition for their combined efforts. In particular Hackman is outstanding as the selfish, but well meaning Royal and Owen Wilson (who also co-wrote the film with Anderson) is brilliant as the drug addicted, close friend of the family, author Eli Cash. In turn the flawless screenplay by Anderson and Wilson is not only well balanced and insightful but is extremely familiar, and as a result viewers will find that they are continuously able to relate to the characters even as the situations become increasingly bizarre.
Set to an excellent Seventies-inflected soundtrack that includes tracks such as the Rolling Stones' 'Ruby Tuesday' and Elliot Smith's 'Needle in the Hay' and framed delicately by Anderson's slight, almost stage-like direction The Royal Tenenbaums is by no means a film for everyone. Many will find it's subtle approach to humour frustrating and, at times, perhaps even boring. But if you approach the film with an open mind and are willing to immerse yourself fully into the world Anderson has so flawlessly created, you'll find yourself greatly rewarded. And in truth the film's numerous moments of hilarity such as Eli flipping out during a live televised interview, Margot denying that a packet of cigarettes belong to her and Ritchie crashing embarrassingly out of a tennis match are worth the price of admission alone. Pure class.
Reviewed by Simon Jones
Reader comments about The Royal Tenenbaums
sara jane (firstname.lastname@example.org) writes:
I am frankly shocked that there aren't a million readers' comments already posted about this glorious film.
Anderson, the dapper young American director of Bottle Rocket (96) and Rushmore (98) has made MAGIC. HIs colors, textures, literary references... subtle intellectual humor, everything... it's gorgeous.
This is a movie one must see several times. With each viewing, the audience catches another gem of a detail. There is always something to read, some random little painting in the corner demanding attention...
The murals Richie painted (actually done by Eric Anderson)... Lovely! The fact that everyone in the movie has authored a book-- or at least has been reading one... Who does this??!!!
Wes Anderson. My god, he's a rock star. Eye candy. Brain candy...
Someone out there... write more, watch the movie... take all of your friends.
Kris Lipscombe (email@example.com) writes:
Ok.. wonderful colours.. great playfullness especially in the scene between Owen and Luke Wilson with the 'Native American' pictures as backdrops.. great soundtrack.. it's a very forties comedy.. name checks all the right films and directors.. it's all very good movie stuff.. but it just left me flat.. Rushmore felt warmer.. is Wes Anderson slipping into a depression..? What is the point of this film other than to be funny, smart and playful..? At least in Rushmore he had child characters to compliment his childish characterisations.. what is the point of this film..?????
Adam (Email address withheld) writes:
Loved the movie, but ever since watching it have been wondering what the name of the painting is that is in Eli Cash's living room, and if it is possible to get a print of it. The one I am referring to is where there are men on four wheelers with masks or face paint on with their arms in the air. If anyone has info on it, I'd love to hear it
bob carroll (firstname.lastname@example.org) writes:
The artist's name is Miguel Calderón and if memory serves me correct the picture is named uncannily similair to the way you describe it.
As for Eli
"Wildcat... grrr. Grrrr! Wiioldcat!"
jen (Email address withheld) writes:
I absolutely adore this film. it is dark, yet classy. i'll admit, the first time i saw it, i left the theatre depressed and quite frankly, pissed off. but then i watched it on video one night-- and maybe it was the vodka-- but i fell in love with it.
mike (email@example.com) writes:
where can i get a copy of the painting by miguel Calderon with the monkey bikes and the guys with their arms in the air? mike xxx
Christopher (Email address withheld) writes:
[quote="Chris Shadoian"][quote="elliottgg"]That painting in the background of that scene in [i]The Royal Tenenbaums[/i], with all of the shirtless mask-wearing men on ATVs? That was the crowning moment in a movie thick with intelligent hilarity.[/quote]
Did you perchance mean . . . THIS?
Mike (Email address withheld) writes:
I thought the R T sucked-- Who in this film are we supposed to care about, and why? A well made film about Stalin wouldn't leave you wanting to have old Josef over for dinner, but this? A film about people one hopes never to meet? Barf.
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