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  • Writer's pictureHunter Friesen

"The Royal Tenenbaums" Throwback Review

Wes Anderson hasn’t made a bad film, with most being either really good or just okay. In between the high of The Grand Budapest Hotel and the meh of Moonrise Kingdom sits his third feature, The Royal Tenenbaums, a good film that pushed Anderson further into stardom. Boasting a brilliant cast and a capable director, Tenenbaums is a quirky comedy that delivers a touching story about our relationship with our families and how they shape who we are as a person.

At the heart of our story is Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman). Royal left his family years ago, mostly because nobody liked him, and has been avoiding them by living in a hotel. While he was away, his wife Etheline (Anjelica Huston) raised their three prodigal children Chas (Ben Stiller), Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow), and Richie (Luke Wilson), who all became highly successful in their respective fields. One day Royal returns to the family home in an effort to reconnect with his kids, who are now adults. None of the children want to have anything to do with him. This forces Royal to win back their trust and try to piece back together a special family that has been separated for a very long time.

Wes Anderson again makes an improvement on his previous film, Rushmore. He adds more comedy, but also more sentimentality to the story to make you deeply care about the quirky characters. He is also able to incorporate some of his trademark storytelling techniques such as narration (well done by Alec Baldwin), offbeat banter, and a peculiar fascination with violence. This is a family film for adults, perfectly meant to be watched by parents with their adult children. It’s relatable, to a point, as each character can represent a real member of a family.

I’m not saying this is a perfect film, or even Anderson’s best work (Grand Budapest still takes that honor). The film starts at its highest point, slowly deteriorating as we reach the end. But even at its worst, the film is still good. Anderson, both writer, and director, focuses on too many different side stories and characters. It becomes almost like a merry go round as each character gets their time to shine for a few minutes and then goes back into hiding for a while until they pop out again. It’s still well done but could have been better if there had been more focus.

The cinematography, like all Anderson films, is done with order and precision. Most shots are done symmetrically, with the characters in the middle of the frame. This style works wonders in a character study such as this as our eyes are fixed on to the characters as the world revolves around them.

The production and set design are also well done. The Tenenbaum house is made to look almost plain from the outside, but on the inside, it is a wondrous place of knowledge and peculiarity that comes from the people inhabiting it. Each character’s room takes after them, which reveals personal information to us without having to add to the runtime. All of this makes Anderson one of the modern masters at following the simple rule of show don’t tell.

Coming out on top are the actors, who each do well in their roles. Gene Hackman is the best as Royal. He makes his character so interesting that we begin to root for him, even though his character has been a jerk for almost thirty years. In one of his final roles, this film is a testament to Hackman’s power to make us sympathize with bad men, all while doing so with a smile.

The three children all do a good job, especially Paltrow. They’re all weird people, but we can still relate to them. They play off each other well and each scene where they are all present is engrossing to watch.

Finally, Anjelica Huston comes out of nowhere and delivers one of her best performances in a long time. She goes toe to toe with Hackman in many scenes, using her single mother experience to come out on top most of the time. Everything she does is deeply touching and everything she says is captivating, which is what makes her one of the best motherly characters in recent memory.

The Royal Tenenbaums is a delightful film from a delightful director who almost seems to get better as time goes on. While not great, the film does well when it matters. It could be considered weird or off-putting to some, but for most this will be a fun time of reflecting on what makes a family special to the people that are a part of it.


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