Royal Tenenbaums, The (2001)

Possibly the finest and most fully-realised of his early works, Wes Anderson tells a quirky story about a family full of eccentric, estranged members looking for some measure of redemption and reconciliation. 

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review #2,206

Dir. Wes Anderson
2001 | USA | Comedy/Drama | 110 mins | 2.35:1 | English & Italian
M18 (passed clean) for some language, sexuality/nudity and drug content

Cast: Gene Hackman, Gwyneth Paltrow, Anjelica Huston, Ben Stiller, Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, Bill Murray, Danny Glover
Plot: Three gifted siblings slowly lose their brilliance following abandonment by their eccentric father during their adolescent years. Two decades later, all the betrayal, failure, and disaster comes to the fore when the family reunite one winter.
Awards: Nom. for Golden Bear (Berlinale); Nom. for Best Original Screenplay (Oscars)
Distributor: Disney

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Family, Reconciliation
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Normal
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream

Viewed: Criterion Blu-ray
Spoilers: No

Wes Anderson’s third feature after Bottle Rocket (1996) and Rushmore (1998) is possibly the finest and most fully realised of his early works.  Earning a competition spot at the Berlinale, The Royal Tenenbaums is a candy-coloured trip into another of the auteur’s imaginative worlds. 

Some of the scenes here do prefigure the likes of Moonrise Kingdom (2012), for instance, the use of tents, and The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), hotels and all. 

However, The Royal Tenenbaums is not a work of pure adventure that looks to a future of possibilities; instead, it is one of redemption, from a regretful past that has haunted Royal (Gene Hackman in a wonderfully sprightly role), the old patriarch of a family full of eccentric, estranged members. 

“I’ve had a rough year, Dad.”

The all-star ensemble cast includes amongst others, Anjelica Huston, Ben Stiller, Gwyneth Paltrow, with Alec Baldwin as an extra-diegetic narrator. 

As past and current relational dynamics cause rifts among the characters, each with baggage that they can’t seem to shed, Anderson develops a well-paced story from its delightful parts that integrate naturally through the generous servings of offbeat humour and his playful and precise use of the camera. 

It may be a cheeky movie, but The Royal Tenenbaums is a wistful film at heart, depicting the throes of melancholy, perhaps even of depression in a lightly serious way that only Anderson’s fun, exacting style can render successfully. 

As life changes, past glories are forgotten—how then can we rediscover our zest to make things right again, if only in our lifetime?

Grade: A-



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