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Film Review

The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

IMDB link
Running time: 1h 50min
Directed by Wes Anderson
Written by Wes Anderson, Owen Wilson
Starring Gene Hackman, Gwyneth Paltrow, Anjelica Huston, and many others

The Royal Tenenbaums is a classic comedy that most film buffs will have felt obligated to watch by now, but which I, for whatever reason, had not actually sat down and viewed until recently. I knew it by its reputation, and that if I wanted to pretend to be knowledgeable about cinema, it was something I should get around to. 20 years after its release, I am glad that I finally got to experience it. The Royal Tenenbaums is definitely a great film, worthy of the praise it has been given. It is an eccentric comedy about eccentric characters that get into peculiar, hilarious, and sometimes tragic situations while dealing with eachother. Great writing, directing, and acting result in a deliciously humorous concoction that even a somewhat cynical viewer such as I can appreciate without caveats. Something that is rare for me: I ended up actually caring about these weird, flawed characters, and what happens to them.

Wes Anderson is a well-known film maker with some recognizable traits, such as his use of colours and the comedic, absurd tone of his films. I will not speak with authority about his style; what I know I know mostly through what I have heard and read through the years – I had only seen one of his films prior to watching Tenenbaums. That movie was The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), which I remember being a very amusing, enjoyable, and clever film. I have only seen it once, and that was years ago, but I can see some parallels between it and Tenenbaums. The light-hearted, somewhat absurd tone felt similar, and the characters were, from what I recall, also constructed in a similar way as they were in Tenenbaums. There were other similarities as well, such as the use of voice-over narration, but I will not go in-depth about them here. In any case, I will be rectifying the holes in my Wes Anderson filmography at some point.

The characters are very distinct. Notice the colors and framing as well

I did say that even a cynical viewer will enjoy this film without any caveats, but I must admit that it took approximately half an hour for the film to truly grab me. But when it did grab me, it did not let go until the very end. I was feeling a bit combative at first, thinking that perhaps this is just a bit too pretentious to be enjoyable, but no, it really is not. Eventually one ends up caring about even the most despicable character of the story, the estranged father of the family, Royal Tenenbaum, who is played superbly by the great Gene Hackman. Everyone else is great as well, but I am going to give special credit to Bill Murray and Kumar Pallana who have minor roles, but in my opinion managed to do the most with their limited screen time. Despite the characters being portrayed by such well-known actors, it does not detract from the viewing experience, because everyone just does their job so perfectly. When watching Tenenbaums, for the most part I saw the characters on the screen, not the actors. This is a rare happenstance for me – for example, when watching Top Gun (1986), I see Tom Cruise, not “Maverick”, despite him being a good actor. He is just too recognizable and known for his personal life, and the film does not sufficiently draw me in to make me forget. Tenenbaums managed to draw me in completely, and thus avoids this problem.

Gene Hackman is fantastic as Royal Tenenbaum

Like I said in my last review (Silver Linings Playbook), it can be a bit difficult to review something you have only seen once, and it is possible that one’s opinion might change on subsequent viewings. The Royal Tenenbaums requires you to pay attention to truly appreciate it, and I did, but even so I felt like I missed many details and nuances. Therefore, it is a film which I feel will reward rewatching, and I will most certainly grant myself more chances to catch the details I missed, and for the film to win me over even more in the future. Of course, there is the small sliver of a possibility that I might not enjoy it as much on subsequent viewing. I feel that should be said, however unlikely it is. That has happened to me before on Martin Scorcese’s mafia classic Goodfellas (1990), for example – I have just seen it too many times! Or perhaps I just need to take a long while before watching it again, which I most likely will. It also depends somewhat on the circumstances, however, as I plan on showing Tenenbaums to my family, and their reaction might affect my enjoyment as well.

The plot of The Royal Tenenbaums is not that important for this review, so I will just not say anything about it. What matters is the characters and their interaction, and the superb way in which all the elements of great film making coalesce here, creating a uniquely enjoyable experience. Recommended for everyone, except maybe those that hate Wes Anderson and his style.

Rating: 9.0 / 10

Times I had seen this film prior to this viewing: 0

Would I want to rewatch this film? Absolutely!

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