Directed by Wes Anderson (Rushmore), The Royal Tenenbaums shares much with its predecessor in terms of tone, presentation, and glorification of the hubris of genius. What more can I say? Anderson has assembled a super cast, every single one of them (with the possible exception of Royal Tenenbaum himself, Gene Hackman) cast in a role fairly far off their normal role track, performing a hurry-free script which leads up to a surprisingly satisfying ending. OK, Owen Wilson is not playing very far outside his milieu either. But damn, every time he’s on screen you are ready to laugh or love him or something, he just walks around in a cloud of promise.
I only rated this film Matinee Price because while I was excessively diverted by the excellent performances, amusing plot twists and turns, and novel presentational format, I was still vaguely outside the film. The Tenenbaum children (Ben Stiller, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Luke Wilson) were all played like avatars of characters we are supposed to already know. Actually, in that sense, it was not unlike the characterizations in Harry Potter. I did want to know them more, to buy the non-existent book on which the movie pretends to be based and wallow in these interesting people. The script is written by Owen Wilson and Wes Anderson, and I suspect a fantastic back story exists for everyone; however, knowing it is hidden in there and reaping the benefits are two totally different things.
Remoteness notwithstanding, the performances were all marvelous, and naturally I credit the actors for making me care about the people and wanting to know them more. Wes Anderson’s directorial and scriptwriting gift appears to be taking “show, don’t tell” to an entirely new level. Only Hackman’s and Stiller’s characters ever really lift an eyebrow in emotional response, but the ways the people act out their feelings is both eccentric and delightful. Cartoon-like, everyone wears practically the same outfit for the length of the movie, and deadpans their way through emotionally rich dialogue. We see what they feel by seeing where they are sleeping and what the book cover of the portion of their life that was fictionalized looks like. It must be challenging to read a screenplay like this and see the comic potential. However it got there, I am glad it did.
Anderson and Wilson have co-written all three movies that Anderson has directed, and they keep getting slicker and more accessible. The first, Bottle Rocket, was an uneven, absurdist indie that was mysteriously enjoyable. Some of it must be due to Wilson’s bizarre brand of charm and pluck, but some of it is also the writing. They create work characterized with a pastiche style that blends the banal with the brilliant with the incongruous with the natural, and The Royal Tenenbaums is a delicious confection of stylistic weirdnesses.
I also must point out that whoever the art department is on this film, they are so very lucky! These characters are so wacky and interesting (as evidenced by their environment, as I have noted) it must have been the biggest delight in the world to dress their home(s) and clothe them and design their book covers and everything. I bow to Production designer David Wasco (all of Wes Anderson’s and Quentin Tarantino’s films) and Art Director Carl Sprague (In Dreams, Age of Innocence), and hope whoever awards art department achievements does so for these fellows. PS I am for hire!
MPAA Rating R-language, nudity, sexuality, drugs
Release date 12/28/01
Time in minutes 103
Director Wes Anderson
Studio Touchstone Pictures