Originally released in 2001, The Royal Tenenbaums remains one of Wes Anderson’s finest works. A highly visual black comedy, Tenenbaums is a timeless film which still packs a punch 15 years after its initial release. Anderson’s literary tinged effort contains an impressive cast, superb production design and great music.
Narrated by Alec Baldwin, The Royal Tenenbaums follows Gene Hackman’s Royal Tenenbaum, the patriarch of the Tenenbaums family who fakes a cancer diagnosis in an attempt to reconnect with his estranged grown-up family (Ben Stiller, Gwyneth Paltrow and Luke Wilson) and his ex-wife (Angelica Houston). Satellite characters in the film are played by Anderson stalwart Bill Murray, Danny Glover and (co-writer) Owen Wilson and all involved deliver an impressive selection of acting colours.
The Royal Tenenbaums is a quirky piece of cinema, and if you’re onboard with Anderson’s specific sense of stylised whimsey then you’ll appreciate this J.D Salinger-esqe tale. Every scene and performance works and the film contains the same richness that continues to run through Anderson’s work. Gene Hackman’s turn as the Tenenbaum family patriarch anchors everyone around him and his performance is funny, heartbreaking and well refined. Hackman has always been the perfect combination of movie star and character actor and he manages to make Royal a charismatic character, even though he is emotionally repugnant.
Wes Anderson’s films have their own unique visual style and there’s a precision on display in The Royal Tenenbaums which adds a theatricality to everything occurring on screen. Often when a director spends so much time on creating something aesthetically distinctive, plot and characterisation can suffer. However, here they are as detailed as the film’s visuals. The actors’ performances range from broad to subtle, which somehow work in the quirky throwback New York City that Anderson has created.
A perfectly realised film, The Royal Tenenbaums is a wonderful piece of cinema and Wes Anderson’s film works on all levels. It’s not conventional, but it is the work of a talented auteur who has crated a personal film that stills feels fresh a decade and a half later.
This Criterion Collection blu-ray of The Royal Tenenbaums comes with some wonderful special features. Wes Anderson offers a detailed commentary and you also get With the Filmmaker, a documentary about the making of the film which puts the focus on Anderson. The disc includes archival interviews with the cast, deleted scenes, outtakes and assorted goodies. A wonderful collection of goodies.