4 October 2004 | FilmOtaku
It's more than quirky!
With 'The Royal Tenenbaums', Wes Anderson turns his lens to the American family, warts and all. The Tenenbaums are a dysfunctional family the parents have been separated for decades, and Royal (Gene Hackman) is a disbarred attorney who has long since moved out of the family's enormous house (in an unnamed city of course). The children, all geniuses and overachievers in their own way, are then raised by Etheline (Angelica Houston), an archeologist. Chas (Ben Stiller) is a financial wizard, Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow), is adopted and was a published playwright at 11, and Richie (Luke Wilson) is a tennis prodigy. We are provided the family history at the start of the film, then are introduced to the family 22 years later. Chas is still a financial wizard, but, having lost his wife in a plane accident is now the paranoid father of two small sons. Margot is married to Raleigh St. Clair (Bill Murray, who is basically Anderson's muse), is depressed and hasn't written in years, and Richie, after having a nervous breakdown on the tennis court a couple of years earlier is traveling the world by boat. Still hanging around is Eli (Owen Wilson) a long-time family friend from across the street who is now a literature professor and successful novelist. Etheline is being wooed by her accountant, Henry (Danny Glover) and when Royal gets wind of this, he embarks on a bid to win his family back after not speaking with them for years.
Wes Anderson has an unusual style of film-making that has been static throughout his career. Highly theatrical, almost in the style of a play, he presents the story of the Tenenbaums to us as if it were taken directly from a book, so much so that if you were to read the few sentences that are visible in the book that accompanies the beginning of each 'chapter', you would see that the written narrative follows the action to the letter. Anderson favors primary colors, and characters that are identifiable by very distinct appearances. Chas and his sons have their red track suits they always wear, Margot wears the clip in her hair, Izod dresses from the 80's and dark eyeliner surrounding her eyes, Richie wears the sweatband around his head, Eli is in cowboy gear and Raleigh looks like a Freud knockoff. One of the results is that there are varying degrees of recognition for the actor in 'real life'. When seeing Raleigh, it's easy to forget that it is Bill Murray, and Margot for that matter is so different from how we are used to seeing Paltrow. Certainly, this is Anderson's intent. Anderson also favors point of view shots, characters looking directly at or addressing the camera, and is also one of the few modern masters in the use of music. The soundtrack to 'The Royal Tenenbaums' features some classic songs (Ruby Tuesday, Hey Jude) but also has some obscure tracks that are bizarre and fit into the scene beautifully.
'The Royal Tenenbaums' has a phenomenal cast, and all of the actors are excellent in the film. I get the strong impression that, since Anderson isn't a mainstream film director, A-list actors sign up to work for him because of his alternative vision and his obvious talent. When I watched this film recently, I asked the two friends I saw it with what they thought, and they both said 'It was quirky'. Since they are both film lovers, I was a little disappointed in this narrow (and obvious) assessment of the film at first. Upon further reflection, however, I realized that they both come from households that have parents who are still together. Coming from a 'broken home' I can relate to the high dysfunction of the Tenenbaums as an adult and embrace the story beyond the presentation, despite its highly stylized format. 'The Royal Tenenbaums' is a brilliant film that is both emotional and eye-catching, and truly cements Wes Anderson as an exciting and talented filmmaker. 9/10