Saturday, January 28, 2012

#530. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

Directed By: Wes Anderson

Starring: Gene Hackman, Gwyneth Paltrow, Anjelica Huston

Tag line: "Family Isn't A Word...It's A Sentence"

Trivia:  Danny Glover, Luke Wilson and Owen Wilson all turned down parts in Ocean's Eleven to appear in this film

The first time I saw Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums, I had mixed feelings about it. I found the film amusing enough, yet couldn't relate to the characters, many of whom were a bit too quirky for my tastes. A second viewing changed all that, and what once seemed ‘quirky’ instead took on a bizarre sort of energy, as if everyone in this movie existed in an alternate reality. Having seen The Royal Tenenbaums somewhere around a dozen or so times at this point, I now rank it among my top-10 favorite films of all time. 

Though they've never divorced , Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman) and his wife, Etheline (Angelica Huston), have been separated for the last 22 years. With her husband out of the picture, Etheline took control of both the house at 111 Archer Avenue, and the job of raising their three children, Chas, Richie, and adopted daughter Margot. With Etheline’s guidance and support, all of the Tenenbaum offspring became child prodigies, but their success was short-lived. Chas (Ben Stiller), who had launched several lucrative business ventures by the time he was a teenager, is today a widowed father obsessed with the safety and well-being of his two sons, Ari (Grant Rosenmeyer) and Uzi (Jonah Meyerson). Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow), a former award-winning playwright, is unhappily married to noted author and neurologist, Raleigh St. Clair (Bill Murray), while Richie (Luke Wilson), once a tennis superstar, has spent the last year living at sea, reeling from his emotional breakdown one afternoon on the tennis court. 

And then there's Royal, who's recently been locked out of his hotel room.  Having remained close friends with Pagoda (Kumar Pallana), a servant in the Tenenbaum household, Royal learns from him that Etheline is about to embark on a new romance with her accountant, Henry Sherman (Danny Glover).  So, to prevent this courtship from happening, Royal decides it's high time he reclaim his position as head of the family. Naturally, he goes about doing so by way of deception, faking a terminal illness and telling Etheline he has only six weeks to live. As a result, Royal finds himself once again living under the same roof as his estranged family, and while he may not be the most popular member of the household, Royal does share some worldly wisdom with his children, which, in the end, might be just what they needed to help sort out their troubled lives. 

There's no shortage of eccentric characters in The Royal Tenenbaums, yet Hackman damn near steals the show as Royal, the abrasively dishonest patriarch who worms his way back into the family fold. Yet, despite his obvious shortcomings, Royal is basically a likeable guy. In one of the film’s best scenes, he invites his two sheltered grandsons, Ari and Uzi, out for an afternoon on the town. To the beat of Paul Simon's Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard, Royal and the boys embark on an escapade of hi-jinks as dangerous as they are illegal (he even teaches them how to shoplift cookies and a half-gallon of milk from a corner convenience store). Sure, Royal is a horrible role model, arguably the worst young Ari and Uzi could possibly have, but he's the perfect counterweight to their father's stifling over-protectiveness, showing the boys it's OK to live a little. 

Everything about The Royal Tenenbaums, from its astute visual style to the expert narration of Alec Baldwin (often overlooked, but extremely effective) is spot-on, and I came to love this oddball collection of characters, whose lives always seemed to be teetering on the brink of disaster. Enter Royal Tenenbaum, con-man, liar, and crook extraordinaire, who showed up just in the nick in time to save them all.


SJHoneywell said...

I really, really like this movie and pretty much every performance in it. Even actors I'm normally ambivalent about (Stiller, Paltrow) are tremendous in this.

These are characters I'd happily spend another two hours with.

Dave B. said...

SJHoneywell: Thanks for the comment!

I agree with you completely (this is easily my favorite Ben Stiller movie), and would very much like to see a "continuation" of these characters at some point. It's been over 10 years...I can't help but wonder what they've been up to!

Thanks again, and have a great day

Brent Allard said...

I can relate to your experience. On first viewing I dismissed it as "quirky" in the style of many many indie films. But watching a second time I enjoyed it very much and went on to enjoy everything from Wes ANderson since. He certainly has has own style, and his casting is impeccable.

Dave B. said...

Brent: Thanks for the comment!

Yeah, this is the one that turned me on to Wes Anderson's work as well, and I pretty much enjoy every film he's made (yes, even LIFE AQUATIC).

It may take a second viewing to finally "get" them, but once you do, you're hooked!

Klaus said...

Same here, I didn't really care much for this one - first time around. But like most of Anderson's films, they seem to get better with repeated viewings.

Dave B. said...

Klaus: Definitely! Every one of Anderson's films grow on you with repeated viewings.

Thanks for the comment!