IN THE DIRECTOR’S CHAIR WITH WES ANDERSON REVIEW: “The Royal Tenenbaums” stars Gene Hackman (The French Connection, Unforgiven), Angelica Huston (Prizzi’s Honor, The Witches), Ben Stiller (The Secret Life of Walter Mitty , Tropic Thunder), Gwenyth Paltrow (Iron Man 3, Shakespeare in Love), Luke Wilson (Hoot, Brad’s Status), Owen Wilson (Midnight in Paris, Cars ), Danny Glover (Lethal Weapon, 2012), Bill Murray (Space Jam, The Monuments Men), Seymour Cassel (Little New York, Dick Tracy), Kumar Pallana (The Terminal, Another Earth), Grant Rosenmeyer (Money Monster, Come As You Are), Jonah Meyerson (The Matador, From Other Worlds), and is narrated by Alec Baldwin (The Departed , Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation). It is directed by Wes Anderson (Moonrise Kingdom, Isle of Dogs), who wrote it with Owen Wilson. A once-famous dysfunctional family, the Tenenbaums, reunite under one roof after living separate lives of depression and tragedy. When their absent father, Royal Tenenbaum (Hackman) returns to reconnect with his children under the guise of a stomach cancer, things become even more complicated.
There aren’t many times in a viewing experience where I rewind the film as I watch. This was the case with Wes Anderson’s gigantic ensemble tale, “The Royal Tenenbaums.” Looking to go bigger and bolder, Anderson upped his cast, story girth, and (more importantly) production design. It’s at this point that we have bridged into the Wes Anderson everyone recognizes, with heavy use of pastel colors, sprawling scenics, and an eloquent narration of sorts that spins our telltale. “The Royal Tenenbaums” is ginormous, no question; honestly, it scares me to review it after only seeing it once, since I believe it takes a few viewings to fully grasp what is being brought to the table. Bottom line, the film is a story of dysfunctional family finally coming to terms of who they are and where they are at in life, all the while forgiving those who have done them wrong. And when I say “them,” I primarily mean Royal Tenenbaum himself, the poor excuse of a family patriarch. He’s played fantastically by Gene Hackman, who enforces such a slimy, scheming type of a person. It’s his arc that is driving the show, but it certainly doesn’t take center stage the whole time. Anderson and Owen Wilson crunch a wide gamut of side stories into this, all from the perspectives of the Tenenbaum family: Etheline (Huston), Chas (Stiller), Margot (Paltrow), and Richie (Luke Wilson). Each have their baggage, each have their quirks, each need resolve. And for being only an hour and forty minutes, “The Royal Tenenbaums” feels like a crash course. It’s unrelenting, fast-paced, and never skipping a beat. But at the same time, it can make your head spin with just how much your taking in. I had to pause the movie three times to fully absorb what I just saw; it could’ve been my sleepiness, or simply just the fact that there is a lot to digest. Regardless, I return to my case that this film is worth more than just one watch. The technical aspect of it is flat-out astounding. While Anderson hasn’t fully immersed himself in modified sets to fit his symmetrical vision (there are shots outdoors that can be off-balance), he’s getting darn close in the use of the Tenenbaum household. Three stories, several rooms, all with unique personalities tailored to the characters. It’s quite marvelous, and a wonder to see purely for production design sake (as well as wardrobe, which is choice). The cinematography, music, and cast choice are also stellar in this, with a dream team cast I could only imagine assembling myself: Gene Hackman, Angelica Huston, Ben Stiller, Gwyneth Paltrow, Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, Danny Glover, Bill Murray… my goodness people, was Wes given the golden ticket or what? One of the things that struck me in surveying Anderson’s career was how he never brought back really any of the cast that performed in this for his later releases. Really, only Owen Wilson, Bill Murray, and Angelica Huston remained. I wonder why that is… Nevertheless, we’ve got an elite cast to shoulder this feature, which is essentially structured like a novel. It’s narrated by Alec Baldwin and separated by chapters, playing out in the form of a slice-of-life per say (or should I say, many slices of life). There’s plenty of story routes to take in this, all converging on a theme of forgiveness, acceptance, and mental health. I enjoyed it and was quite entertained; granted, I expected nothing less. It’s wittiness and beauty unfold pleasantly, and much like “Rushmore,” we are shown a darker side to the picture every now and then. Actually… I’d say this is a much darker film than all the other Anderson films I have seen. Like I said, mental health is a big focal point in this, and all three Tenenbaum children suffer serious problems. Things get heavy and emotional, but I didn’t find myself as gripped as I was in “Rushmore.” Mainly because of just how big this project is. Several characters fighting for screen time lead to less individual development. In comparison to “Rushmore,” “The Royal Tenenbaums” leans a bit more towards its visual appeal than character study. Not entirely (for there is a good deal of character girth in this), but enough to where I wanted to feel more for some of these people. It could’ve been my mood when I saw it or how late it was, but this issue was creeping into my mind towards the third act. With all that said, it’s well-paced for what it is trying to accomplish, and there’s such a vast pool of hidden story/technical elements that I’ll need to go back to see. But I would be doing myself a disservice if I didn’t state what was fully on my mind. “The Royal Tenenbaums” is a big story crunched into a short window, with a set of characters beaming with intrigue and scenes that’ll stick in your mind. It’s not the best Anderson film, and I didn’t experience as much emotional tug as I believe Anderson wanted (maybe with another viewing haha), but it’s still a brilliantly executed piece of cinema with an incredible vision. Certainly don’t skip it. FIRST SCORE: 90%= Juicy Popcorn
SECOND-WATCH REVIEW: Well folks, this is a first – I have watched a film a second time before publishing a review. For Wes Anderson (and my sanity), I felt it only right to do so. This time, I saw the movie with my dad and brother, which of course brought a different experience. Just so I don’t take up too much of your time, I will cut to the chase and say that “The Royal Tenenbaums” is deserving of a second watch; it gets better, trust me. And that’s not to say it was bad in the first place, because you could tell I enjoyed it the first time around. I’ve just grown a better understanding of the story with a second viewing. Certain elements not prevalent to me revealed themselves this time around, and I found myself enjoying the characters further. They are all storybook people, each unique and real in a very unreal sense. I’m still not as attached as I would want to be with some (its very much so a style over substance viewing), but with that comes a better grasp of the feel Anderson is trying to evoke. No, the new score doesn’t soar to perfection. With this big undertaking comes a film built on moments, some heartbreaking, some hilarious, some fantastic, and others leaving more to be desired. And while the new rating doesn’t show a vast improvement (it’s quite laughable at how much it doesn’t change), I must confess that my initial analysis of this film was heavily influenced by my adoration for this filmmaker. Because I had such a lousy mentality walking into this one, I couldn’t help but lean on my fanboy nature to guide me to a safe score. Now I can safely rate it, fanboy goggles off. For those looking for a dysfunctional family story unlike any other, “The Royal Tenenbaums” is a pure treat. FINAL SCORE: 91%= Juicy Popcorn
Here is the trailer: