The Royal Tenenbaums
There is a sense of watching The Royal Tenenbaums that has you wondering if every finite detail on screen was meticulously planned out by writer director Wes Anderson. Because the world of the Tenenbaums is so perfectly realised, as if a magic mouse had climbed inside of Anderson’s head and set-up a cunning little brain projector to capture and share his inner musings.
Of course thanks to this Criterion Collection release that theory is demonstrated to be true. No, not the little magic mouse bit but Anderson’s intricate and loving attention to detail. A documentary accompanying the film sees Anderson first dazzled by his own paint selection before obsessing over the tiniest of details, many of which would probably be invisible on camera.
It is testament to a filmmaker whose works are never anything less than Andersonian. Sure, the influence of Hal Ashby is never far from the mind but there is an undeniable sense of tone, humour visuals and music cues all working in perfect harmony. This is none more true of Tenenbaums which is, even for those to whom Anderson is not their cup of tea, his most accessible work.
The story of a dysfunctional family of wunderkinds, proteges and geniuses all trying to come to terms with their lack of success and feuding parents on paper should play out as drama. But therein lies Anderson’s brand of comedy. His characters are larger than life without ever feeling out of the ordinary. There is something comfortingly relatable in all of them.
And comforting is what Anderson is aiming for. Because beneath the drama, the anger, the cunning wiles of the various characters there is a childlike innocence to proceedings. Yes, this is in no small part due to the arrested development of many of the characters but it is also smartly highlighted through Anderson’s literal book-ending of the story. Add to this Alec Baldwin’s soothing and hypnotic narration and Tenenbaums is a pop-up book for adults.
Gene Hackman clearly revels in flexing his comedic chops, his Royal is a lovable cad even at his most sell-out smug. Angelica Huston is typically regel, the perfect queen to Royal’s stumbling king. Ben Stiller seems to be first channelling and then dialing down his angry man persona from his cameo in Friends, come the climax his performance displaying the perfect amount of pathos for which to find him redeeming. Owen Wilson seems to be playing a pastiche version of himself, but then again when hasn’t he? His brother Luke meanwhile is brilliantly understated, softly spoken and glazed over. His Richie ‘Baumer’ Tenenbaum is easily the most likeable of the family thanks to Luke’s intricate performance. Meanwhile Gwyneth Paltrow quietly puts in the best performance of her career as the stoic Margot. Her heavily shadowed, dead eyes belie a character who is both cunning and utterly lost in the world. It is testament to Anderson that he extracts career highs for the entire cast.
A beautifully, intricately woven tapestry of a quirky family living in a skewed reality which is compellingly relatable. The Royal Tenenbaums is a pure delight.