The Royal Tenenbaums (11/15/12)

The Royal TenenbaumsMovie Two Hundred Sixty Two

The Royal Tenenbaums is the story of a family brought back together by their ailing, estranged patriarch.

The young Tenenbaum children are all prodigies; Chas is business savvy, Margot, who was adopted, wrote a successful play, and Richie is a tennis star. Their parents, Royal (Gene Hackman) and Etheline (Anjelica Huston), are getting a divorce. Twenty two years later, Royal is getting evicted from his hotel room where he has been staying. After hearing that his wife’s accountant, Harry (Danny Glover) is trying to marry Etheline, Royal devises a plan and says he is dying of cancer and wants to stay in their house and reunite the family. As adults, the children are all in post-success slumps. Chas (Ben Stiller), is still in business but has become obsessively protective over his sons after their mother’s death. Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow), is married to a neurologist named Raleigh St. Clair (Bill Murray) but hides her life from him. Richie (Luke Wilson) had a breakdown as a tennis star.

When a film has a huge ensemble cast, it is easy for the plot to get lost in the mix but Wes Anderson not only keeps the characters unique and interesting in The Royal Tenenbaums, but the plot is one of his best too. Each character has their own cross to bear and when they are under the same roof again, their stories are interesting on their own, but together they become something special. Admittedly, there is a lot to take in and some of the quirk that is special to Anderson’s films may put some people off but I would argue that The Royal Tenenbaums is possibly Anderson’s most accessible film.

I watched The Royal Tenenbaums again after watching Moonrise Kingdom for a second time and when viewed back-to-back, the films are actually very different in some respects, though both very Anderson-y. Where Moonrise Kingdom cranks the ’60s nostalgia and colors all the way up, The Royal Tenenbaums is brightly colored but also kind of washed out. The Royal Tenenbaums feels more realistic but also has many of the same fantastical things that Anderson is known for. The Royal Tenenbaums is clearly intended for adults but Moonrise Kingdom would likely be enjoyable for young teens and adults for different reasons.

It’s difficult to speak of Wes Anderson’s films since he has crafted such a unique “formula” for his work. While, at times, this style can be a bit too much or get in the way of the storytelling, but The Royal Tenenbaums is more of a character story with great, innovative set pieces and shots. That’s not to say that The Royal Tenenbaums is a serious film, it’s actually quite funny, but the camp aspect is scaled back a bit.

The Royal Tenenbaums was recently released on blu-ray by the Criterion Collection and is an improved package over the DVD edition they also put out. The special features remain the same, but they are spectacular for fans of Anderson’s work. The commentary and behind the scenes footage are worth it alone, but the set offers much more. The picture and sound are both spectacular, as expected.

The Royal Tenenbaums was my favorite Wes Anderson film before Moonrise Kingdom came out. I had a guy stop me in Barnes and Noble a few weeks ago asking my opinion of the movies he was holding. He had Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, and The Royal Tenenbaums in his hand and said he had never seen a Wes Anderson movie before. I gave my brief impressions of each and asked which sounded the best to him, he picked Rushmore and I went along with it but urged him to check out Moonrise Kingdom if he liked it. If I had seen the blu-ray presentation of The Royal Tenenbaums before that conversation, however, I would likely have steered him differently.

I give it 4 Mordecais out of 5.


Rotten Tomatoes


23 responses to “The Royal Tenenbaums (11/15/12)

  1. I’ve never been a Wes Anderson film for the reason that you stated, that his style seems to get in the way of storytelling. It’s as if he’s shouting, “Look! Here’s my signature style! I’m QUIRKY!!!” That’s what turned me off of “The Royal Tenenbaums.” However, I’ve only seen it once and that was years ago, so I need to watch it again with a different perspective. I just watched “Moonrise Kingdom” and really enjoyed it, looking at it as pure fantasy than anything resembling reality.

    • His style works well in Moonrise specifically for that reason. I’d also really suggest Fantastic Mr. Fox. Royal Tenenbaums doesn’t work in the same way, but instead of being drowned in his quirk, you can simply come to appreciate it.

  2. This is either my second or third favorite by Anderson (the first being Rushmore and the other being Moonrise Kingdom). I know a lot of people are put off by Anderson’s quirkiness but I loved it here. Nice review.

  3. So glad to see that you are a fan of this. I was discussing this film and WA’s work just last night. I pegged this as a Marmite film. Marmite, if you don’t know, is a British yeast extract (lol, that sounds so ridiculous!) like vegimite. Do you know what I’m talking about. Anyway, basically you either love it or hate it. I LOVE this film. I saw at the cinema when it came out. I was in Toronto and I had a splitting headache. This film was a breath of fresh air. It makes me want to cry (that happens at odd times with me) there are just so many sad characters. So Ben Affleck when he’s doing his alarm tests with his boys in their tracksuits, it’s just heart breaking. I also find the dalmatian/fire brigade bit really emotive. I love Pagoda, he’s so funny. I have to say, next to this ‘The Life Aquatic’ is probably my favourite WA film. Haven’t seen ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ yet, will need to buy it. 🙂 I was still living in the Outer Hebrides when it came out at the cinema and they didn’t show it there. 😦 Bill Murray, he’s made some cracking film choices, especially in recent times. 🙂

    (I’ve gotta stop leaving you such big comments! Sorry!)

  4. I like your comparison of the colors in one being bright and the other washed-out. “Moonrise Kingdom” is about the potential of youth, while “The Royal Tenanbaums” is more about the wasted potential of adults. Interesting catch on your part.

  5. i tried to watch this about 6 years ago after a long day and several long drinks. i fell asleep 15 minutes in and never bothered to try again. my loss i suppose. have not seem moonrise kindgom, but it’s on my list after having forgotten about it. love bill murray and edward norton.

  6. Great review. And I love this movie because of the “quirky characters” We Anderson seems to create. It worked very well in this film and I really loved it. Have to check out Moonrise Kingdom now too!

  7. Pingback: My November Movies Round-Up | Andy Watches Movies

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