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The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) – Movie Review

The Royal Tenenbaums movie poster

Written by: Wes Anderson & Owen Wilson
Directed by: Wes Anderson
Starring: Gene Hackman, Luke Wilson, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Stiller, Anjelica Huston

My Advice: Don’t miss it.

The Tenenbaums were a bit of a sensation way back when. They’re a portrait of a family that peaked way too early. Richie (Luke Wilson) was a star tennis pro. Margot (Paltrow) was an award-winning playwright. Chas (Stiller) was a very successful businessman. They were all prodigies, which means when you and I were sitting around watch the Bozo show, they were out getting famous. But now, times have changed, and the three siblings have lost their luster. Was it because of the split between their father and mother (Hackman and Huston)? Was it because they just blew their wad too soon? Or was it just the general neuroses that come with being part of a family?

[ad#longpost]That’s really just the tip of the iceberg, but you know us: we don’t fill up reviews with synopsis. If you’re familiar with Anderson and Wilson‘s previous effort, Rushmore, then you know they are the kings of quirk. Their stories seem to take place in a strange liminal fantasy world–the people and places seem just skewed enough to not be able to possibly exist in our reality, and yet you could swear that you’ve met some of these people before. Taking the strangeness away from just two characters, instead this time we have an entire family–with extended family–to deal with. It’s a truly ensemble film, everyone is careful not to outperform anyone else.

Sure, there are standouts. Anderson was wise to hold out for Hackman as the father of this dysfunctional bunch, because this might lead to a Best Supporting nod for him. The three siblings are all excellent. You’ve got Danny Glover and Bill Murray on board, playing probably the most normal people in the cast. Amusingly enough, if I had to give a gold star to anyone–it would be Anderson/Wilson veteran Kumar Pallana, who plays the Tenenbaums’ manservant Pagoda. He finds himself with a great deal of screentime, especially with Hackman, and he’s so understated with everything it’s just hilarious. Also of note is that Alec Baldwin‘s narration is so muted yet crisp, he’s almost unrecognizable.

Stylized and extremely literate in tone, understated across the board, it’s a step up from the already high on the list Rushmore. It tackles subjects of redemption, family and forbidden love–and manages to balance all of this with moments both moving and hilarious. The whole thing feels natural in a way that most directors these days can’t seem to manage. Could it be…subtle? Perhaps that’s why the whole thing is so novel. But more than likely it’s smart filmmaking.

All in all, it’s an excellent film and should not be missed. Highly recommended.

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