The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

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


Anamorphic: Yes.

My Advice: Own It.

Royal Tenenbaum (Hackman) has a problem. He's been estranged from his wife (Huston) and family for years now. And someone's moving in to try and woo his wife, namely Henry Sherman (Danny Glover). Meanwhile, to make things even more dysfunctional, his son Chas (Stiller) is still unable to get over the death of his wife; his other son Richie (Luke Wilson) has been traveling abroad only to discover he's in love with his adopted sister Margot (Paltrow), who in turn is spending all her time alone in her bathroom depressed and clandestinely smoking cigarettes.

Recently I've come to terms with the fact that about half of the directors I'm really impressed with just can't hang when it comes to followup movies. As one of the five people on the planet who don't fall prostrate in front of Anderson and Owen Wilson's first pic, Bottle Rocket, I just go on and consider Rushmore to be their first film for my own purposes. This film I love only slightly more than Rushmore, but with each viewing I grow more and more fond of it. It's not the fact that this time out the cast is stacked from end to end with Names. It's not the fact that with more characters you get more interactions for Anderson and Wilson to muck with (as opposed to the more limited "love triangle" of the previous film). It's everything. It's seeing a style that you could have sworn was perfect to begin with taken a step further. To eleven, if you will. And it's seeing them work on another set of archetypes. Instead of the selfishness and strangeness of growing up, here we have a series of people who have grown up--but maybe just didn't do it correctly. It's the archetypes of families--and everybody's is screwed up, no matter how much they've deluded themselves into thinking theirs is golden.

But enough about why the movie was one of the best of 2001. I won't even expound on how they were robbed of a Best Screenplay win and Hackman a Best Actor nod. No, I do too much of that in person. Instead, I'll just talk about how nice it is to have Criterion get a hold of this film for release. First of all, the commentary from Anderson is quite informative, although it's a shame Owen Wilson couldn't have joined him for it. And as always, a second commentary track featuring members of the cast--especially the three children if no one else--would have been perfection. But...t'will do, t'will suffice.

The two most gratifying parts of this two disc set, though, are the interviews, the "With the Filmmaker" segment, and the attention to the artwork of the film. The interviews with the main cast members run around five minutes each, and they're thankfully a bit meatier than the normal, "Here's who I am, here's the character I play" fare of cast interviews. But, considering the cast on this thing, you'd be disappointed if it was the same old-same old. Best among the bunch, though, is Bill Murray's, who proves that he's still a hilarious guy despite the fact that his character in the film is probably the most humorless one of them all.

The "With the Filmmaker" isn't what you would at first expect. It's not an interview, or a bio, or anything really of that sort. There are portions where Wes Anderson is talking to the camera, but for the most part it's just tagging along as he looks at the set, makes changes to artwork, and so on. Interesting to see someone in their element at work.

The artwork of the film is covered in detail, which is nice considering how much thought went into every tidbit of the world the Tanenbaums inhabit. There is a slideshow of Richie's murals, created by Wes' brother Eric. In the collectible booklet that comes with the set, there's actually an Eric Anderson "schematic" of how the rooms in the house are laid out as well--something that Wes wanted to show exactly how the place was supposed to look. Also amusing is the segment on painter Calderón, whose works appear in Eli Cash's (Owen Wilson) dwelling. Funniest bit is, of course, that Wes Anderson wrote the paintings in--and purchased one, even--before realizing that Calderón himself did not actually paint the things.

Of lesser but still significant interest are the cut scenes from the film--all three of them, which without context are...terribly odd. Some commentary from Wes Anderson explaining where they would have come in the film would have been nice. One even features Rushmore star Olivia Williams for a few seconds as...what? Eli Cash's wife? Girlfriend? Who knows? The storyboards are of merit just to give more evidence as to exactly how precise Wes Anderson envisions things. And the still photos from the set--and there are a slew of them--along with the magazine and book covers from the film, make for a nice addition.

I must here interject that the two "easter eggs" (though rather easy to find) are almost worth the price of admission. One has Anjelica Huston's hair catching on fire, and the other features Kumar Pallana (who plays Pagoda in the film). Kumar, who shares almost as much screen time with Hackman as anyone else in the cast, always seems to be a very silent, almost stoic individual. Doesn't talk much. But he's a Vaudevillian, a juggler and a magician. His easter egg features him performing tricks with spinning plates at an apparent cast party while all those present are chanting, "Kumar, Kumar!" Just priceless.

The oddest bit from the whole set is a segment hosted by Peter Bradley (Larry Pine) wherein he talks with Kumar Pallana, Dipak Pallana, Sanjay Mathew, Brian Tenenbaum and Stephen Dignan in what's supposed to be the same talk show as the one that featured Eli Cash in the film. It's just as odd and disjointed as in the film, although it perhaps goes on a bit too long and you're never quite sure if it's supposed to be funny or not.

Even with a couple of slight reservations, this is still a damn fine set for an incredible film. Fans of it should go out and buy it immediately. Those of you who aren't fans yet should probably rent it--then buy it afterwards.

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