The Royal Tenenbaums
The Royal Tenenbaums is about a dysfunctional family with each member having their own talents and idiosyncrasies, reunited again under the same roof the child prodigies grew up together. Director Wes Anderson’s style is clearly shown like most of his films, the script is incredibly detailed and the character development is phenomenally well done. Most of it is comprised of quirky characters with deadpan punch lines. Love him or hate him, Anderson remains one of the most original contemporary American filmmakers, this film only reflects that.
The Royal Tenenbaums is written in a style of a book and starts off with a prologue – which is narrated by Alec Baldwin – that gives us a detailed background on the Tenenbaum siblings as children. Each of the three kids is gifted in their own way. The oldest son Chas managed to develop a new breed of mice and close real estate deals in his teens. Margot is an adopted daughter who before the age of 14 produced a $50,000 playwriting grant and a secret smoker since 12. Richie is an international tennis champion. Then you have Eli Cash, who is a neighbor kid who spends enough time with them to be considered an honorary Tenenbaum.
To close out the prologue, we see the father, Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman), explain to the kids that even though he has made “certain sacrifices” by having children, that he is leaving based on their mother’s, Etheline Tenenbaum (Anjelica Huston), decision.
The film then jumps 22 years later and we see the children all grown up. At their core, the siblings are falling apart although it is seems like it was not because of being child prodigies or growing up fatherless but simply where life as taken them.
Royal has not spoken to his ex-wife in seven years until one day he pops in to tell her some news. He tells her that he is deadly sick and claims he has six weeks to live. In his own words he “has a pretty bad case of cancer”. However, you do not know if he is telling the truth or not as he is the type of person that walks with a cane but rarely uses it. His last wishes are simple, to get the family back together.
Chas (Ben Stiller) in now permanently in a state of paranoia after losing his wife in a plane crash. The film implies that the late night fire evacuation drills he does with his two children are not rare occurrences. He decides that because there are no sprinklers inside the apartment, he and his kids should live with his mother.
Richie (Luke Wilson) was once a famous tennis player but had choked in a big tournament which ended his career. He blames his failure on his absent father and his love for his adopted sister Margot. Currently, he is cruising around the world on a large ship when he hears the news about his father and decides to go home to visit him.
Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow) spends six hours a day in the bathtub of a locked bathroom watching TV and secretly smoking. Her isolation has caused her not to write a play in years. She is married to Raleigh St. Clair (Bill Murray) but leaves him when she decides to go back home.
Royal never has as much as a quarter on him at any time. He constantly has to ask people for money or credit. His own son Chas has sued him twice for taking money from him. That may be pay back from when Royal shot him in the hand with a BB gun as a kid (which actually happened to Owen Wilson’s brother as a kid).
Since moving back home, Margot rekindles a relationship with Eli Cash (Owen Wilson) which is very upsetting to Richie who is in love with her. Richie eventually resorts to suicide as desperate call for attention. Similar drama surrounds Etheline as Royal is trying to get closer to her at the same time his nemesis Henry Sherman (Danny Glover) is.
Henry calls Royal out for not having cancer and he is right. Royal admits to faking it in an effort to try getting back with his ex-wife but realizes the 6 days he spent with his family has actually been one of the best times in his life. And that is something he is not lying about.
A scene towards the end of the film is wonderful, a long continuous scene that captures almost all of the characters showcasing their personality. Henry is still trying to cheat the system by getting the most out of his insurance. Royal finally makes up to Chas by giving him a dog. The doctor who was giving bad medical advice in the beginning is still giving terrible advice. Margot is still getting cigarettes from hiding places and Richie Wilson is still taking care of his bird as he did as a child.
Wes Anderson’s love for the theater shows as this felt more like a play than it did a feature film. His focus on scene decoration and matching of colors on the set are both artfully done. Along with cinematography, another similar theater element is most of the characters are almost always wearing the same clothing throughout. When you watch a Wes Anderson film, you instantly know it by the look and feel of it, which is something I greatly admire of him. His style is identifiably unique.
While both Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson came up with a script that can hold its own to many others, the acting performances help sell it wonderfully. Gene Hackman nails the role perfectly, in what might be the best film he has done. This role landed him a Golden Globe win. Granted, the amount of talented actors Wes Anderson got to work with for this is mesmerizing, but he did get them each to perform their best.
With The Royal Tenenbaums, Wes Anderson spends so much time carefully distinguishing each character that it makes the main storyline seem relatively shallow. It is the type of film that becomes more rewarding after each viewing and because of that it has a tremendous cult following. Of course, most films put out by Anderson have a following automatically associated to them.