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Film Review: The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

The Royal Tenenbaums is an ensemble comedy-drama about a family of dysfunctional geniuses and their insensitive, absentee father, the titular Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman). Royal and his children’s caring and elegant mother, Etheline (Anjelica Huston), separated when the kids were young, but when Royal runs out of cash, he tries to manipulate his way back into the family, dredging up resentment and conflict among the now-grown up Tenenbaums. The eldest child, Chas (Ben Stiller) was a financial whiz who spent his childhood being undermined by his selfish father who once stole money from his safe. Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow), the only Tenenbaum daughter and an adopted child, was a talented playwright who faced rejection from Royal every time he announced that she was adopted. Ritchie (Luke Wilson), the youngest, was a tennis prodigy and the patriarch’s favourite, but his career ended spectacularly due to his secret love for Margot. Bill Murray, Danny Glover, and Owen Wilson also co-star as secondary figures in this messy but entertaining family affair.

Aside from the complicated but engaging drama, The Royal Tenenbaums is marked by the distinctive aesthetic of director Wes Anderson. The meticulous set design, uniform-like costuming, and symmetrical camerawork reach their ideal level of finesse after his first two, well-regarded films, Bottle Rocket and Rushmore. The typeface Futura has its presence in pastel-tinted title cards and chapter breaks, which are elements that make the movie feel like a book. Quirky character details include missing fingers, pet hawks, and loyalty to certain athletic brands, but they do not overshadow the real character beats of this collection of flawed parents and children. The British Invasion soundtrack is also memorable and aids greatly in creating the perfect moments of the film. As well, intentionally deadpan line delivery is juxtaposed to the heartfelt words and emotions of the characters, a trademark for many of Anderson’s films.

Operating at peak Andersonian level of care, craft, and character, The Royal Tenenbaums is a brilliant, unforgettable, and superb film.

Rating: 5 out of 5 fanciful epitaphs

Bonus: You can read my slightly longer essay on the relationship between Royal and his children in my post from last year HERE.

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