Skip to main content

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #159: The Royal Tenenbaums

I suppose it would be possible to run into a character from Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) in real life, but the odds of running into that entire family seems next to impossible. The unique filmmaker’s third film ups the ante from his previous film Rushmore, so of course things become quirkier as he further advances towards his current masterpiece The Grand Budapest Hotel.

The Royal Tenenbaums has all of his usual visual styles, musical preferences, and of course two of his usual collaborators, Bill Murray and Owen Wilson. The story is very “Wes Anderson,” so if it is your first time watching one of his films you may be caught by surprise, as I was when I first watched it in 2002. The film was nominated for many awards and is described as a comedy-drama, but there not many moments when you will be laughing out loud. As the film open with Alec Baldwin narrating the various exploits of the Tenenbaum children you have to wonder if the whole thing is not some long elaborate joke thought out by Anderson and Wilson his co-writer.

All three of the Tenenbaum children are described as prodigies in their own fields, with Chas Tenenbaum (Ben Stiller) being an expert in finances, but for some reason always wear the same red jumpsuit along with his two children Ari and Uzi. Brother Richie (Luke Wilson) is a tennis champion who retired after a meltdown on the court and then spent months living on an ocean liner. Adopted sister Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow) is a playwright who has many secrets kept from the family, and who is married to neurologist Raleigh St. Clair (Bill Murray, sporting a beard). Finally there is Eli Cash (Owen Wilson), a close friend of the family for years who gained fame for writing Western novels.

The parents of these oddballs are of course equally outlandish, yet patriarch Royal Tenebaum (Gene Hackman) stands out due to his failures instead of his achievements. Whereas his wife Etheline (Anjelica Huston) is a famous archaeologist and author, Royal is a disbarred lawyer with a poor track record as a father. He once shot one of the kids with a BB gun, can be blatantly insensitive, but compared to the rest of the characters he almost comes off as the normal one, maybe it is because Hackman stands out from Anderson’s material. Yet he has a lot of fun as Royal, especially when he goes out with Ari and Uzi for some fun, which in his mind consists of shoplifting and dog fighting.

The reason for all of these characters to come together is because Royal claims he has developed a form of cancer that leaves him with six weeks to live. He wishes to make amends for his past mistakes, but his children are not quick to forgive or even to believe him. Given past behaviour they probably shouldn’t.

A movie could probably be made about each of these characters separately, but put together the result is almost too quirky for the movie’s own good. What is a first-time viewer of Anderson’s work to make of the character of Pagoda (Kumar Pallana) a family servant who was once an assassin that stabbed Royal?

All of the actors in The Royal Tenenbaums are all very effective in their assigned roles, the writing was so good it ended up influencing both Arrested Development and Alec Baldwin’s role in 30 Rock. However if you are new to Anderson’ world, it may not be the best place to start.


Popular posts from this blog

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #77: Spartacus

Spartacus (1960) is an interesting movie in Stanley Kubrick's filmography because it doesn’t really feel like a Stanley Kubrick movie. I don’t exactly know why, but his signature style doesn’t seem to be present unlike in classics such as The Shining, A Clockwork Orange, or Dr. Strangelove. It does however feel like one of those big sword-and-sandals epics in which you have British thespians acting as Roman politicians with the occasional big battle sequence. In that respect it is spectacular and features Kirk Douglas at his best as the titular hero.
The story of the rebel slave Spartacus has inspired a bloody and sexy TV series (so far unseen by me, but I hear it’s great) and the story behind how it was made is one of those cases of life imitating art. The Bryan Cranston film Trumbo tells how screenwriter Dalton Trumbo was blacklisted in Hollywood during the 1950s for his communist beliefs and had to rebel against the system by writing screenplays for cheap movies under a fake nam…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #79: The Thin Red Line

I once saw an interview in which Christopher Plummer said that what Terrence Malick needs is a writer. He was referring to his experience shooting The New World, which saw his role considerably reduced. The same happened to a much greater extent with Malick’s war movie The Thin Red Line (1998), which saw the screen time of many movie stars reduced to mere minutes amid a 170-minute running time. However you have to hand it to the guy: he knows how to make anything look beautiful, including the carnage of war.
Malick’s movie came out the same year as Saving Private Ryan, so I think that year I had my fill of ultra violent war films and was no too interested in seeing it. Sixteen years later I finally caught up to it on Netflix, but in hindsight the big screen might have been a better option since this is a very visual story. The plot is pretty loose, following one American soldier and sometimes some of his brothers in arms as they make their way through World War II in the Pacific theat…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #85: Blue Velvet

Exactly how do you describe a David Lynch movie? He is one of the few directors whose style is so distinctive that his last name has become an adjective. According to Urban Dictionary, the definition of Lynchian is: “having the same balance between the macabre and the mundane found in the works of filmmaker David Lynch.” To see a prime example of that adjective film lovers need look no further than Lynch’s Blue Velvet (1986), which does indeed begin in the mundane before slowly sinking in macabre violence.
My first introduction to the world of David Lynch was through his ground breaking, but unfortunately interrupted, early 1990s TV series Twin Peaks. This was one of the first television shows to grab viewers with a series-long mystery: who killed Laura Palmer? A mix of soap opera, police procedural, and the supernatural, it is a unique show that showed the darkness hidden in suburbia and remains influential to this day. Featuring Kyle MacLachlan as an FBI investigator with a love for …