Director: Wes Anderson
Screenplay: Wes Anderson, Owen Wilson
Starring: Gene Hackman, Gwyneth Paltrow, Anjelica Huston, Ben Stiller, Luke Wilson
Running Time: 110 min
BBFC Certificate: 15
Like most people, I am fairly well acquainted with the films of Wes Anderson. Over the years I’ve taken it upon myself to get to know his unique back catalogue, including his short films and branded content such as ‘Castello Cavalcanti’, one of his films for Prada, and the recent H&M Christmas ad (which I could happily watch as a feature). Somehow however, The Royal Tenenbaums slipped under my radar. The film is being released on Blu-ray by The Criterion Collection on 5th December, so what better time to complete my Wes Anderson puzzle?
The Royal Tenenbaums is a standout Anderson film for me. His classic visual style is there in all its glory, and arguably this film is where it all began – there are elements of it in Bottle Rocket and it starts to blossom in Rushmore, but here Anderson really has the time and budget to painstakingly design every detail and really run wild with style. Tenenbaums actually made me step back for a moment and re-evaluate the other films in Andersons repertoire, because the bold visual elements of this film compliment the narrative in a way that isn’t necessarily evident in his other work. More recent films like Moonrise Kingdom are fantastic; with strong, interesting narrative and stunning visual flare – but with Tenenbaums, the bright, quirky and saturated visuals juxtapose its darker plot elements to create a much more nuanced and intriguing film.
I was surprised at the depth of plot in The Royal Tenenbaums – Anderson is well known for having multilayered characters, each with their own idiosyncrasies and rich, detailed scripts – but often, particularly in his most recent work – the plot is sort of fun and flowery, placing slightly more weight on comedy than drama. This was different. This caught me off guard. The film opens by setting up its characters with lots of backstory, introducing the Tenenbaum family and their manor when the children are still children (they later become Gweneth Paltrow, Ben Stiller and Luke Wilson, but they never necessarily grow up) and are child prodigies. You see each of them rise and fall before the film really even begins, so that when it does the family you are watching is a captivating, if tragic patchwork quilt. ‘The family’ comes to include the three children – Margot, Chas and Richie, their childhood friend Eli (Owen Wilson), Chas’ two sons, Royal Tenenbaum himself (Gene Hackman), Etheline Tenenbaum (Anjelica Huston) and her financial advisor/lover Henry (Danny Glover). Each character is written with their own unique wit coupled with a hefty dose of intelligence – the film is sprawling with no character being too minor to be given a proper backstory and the attention to detail they deserve. The vastness of the film means that it is rich in heartfelt and honest moments that nod toward the complexities of families and relationships and grounds the film, providing a stark contrast to its wackier dialogue and visuals and creating a balance. It’s a solid and enjoyable watch with all the fun that we’ve come to expect from Wes Anderson, with the added bonus of some frank and genuine drama of something like ‘The Squid and The Whale’.
The Royal Tenenbaums is an absolute treasure. If you haven’t seen it before you should check it out now and be pleasantly surprised. If you have seen it, and you’re reading this review, you probably already know you love it, so treat yourself to the special edition instead of reading about how good it is.
The film is out on special edition Blu-ray in the UK on Monday, released by the Criterion Collection. As always with Criterion, the packaging and cover design is stunning and there are a range of great special features including an audio commentary by Anderson, ‘With The Filmmaker’ portraits by Albert Maysles, outtakes, interviews and behind-the-scenes footage of the cast, an insert with Eric Andersons drawings of the Tenenbaum house and an essay by film critic Kent Jones.