Thursday, July 5, 2012

CANON OF FILM: "THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS"

THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS (2001)

Director: Wes Anderson
Screenplay: Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson



I can’t be the only person who considers “The Royal Tenenbaums,” to easily be Wes Anderson’s best film, but it seems like I am most days. I’ve heard arguments from other people for pretty much all his other movies, yet I’m the one who always had to make the argument for “…Tenenbaums”. Which surprises me because I think most of his other films severely lack in comparison to “The Royal Tenenbaums,” which gets more evolving, more moving, and funnier on every viewing. Even his best other films like “Bottle Rocket”, and “The Darjeeling Limited,” seem to focus more on plot and story while “The Royal Tenenbaums,” plot-wise plays like a bad family epic, (purposefully bad) and the comedy comes in perfectly-mannered behaviors from an array of elaborate, eccentric characters. I’ve seen it about twenty times, and on this latest viewing, I still find myself trying to recall details of the story as they’re happening, and I find myself catching at least one more sight gag or character trait that I didn’t get before. Somehow in this viewing, in all the confusing of the ending which involves no less than a dead dog, a car crash, a drug-upped bad writer with a painted face (Owen Wilson),  and a maniacal chase through the Tenenbaums’s house, I didn’t even realize that a priest gets pushed down a flight of stairs in the middle. There’s so many characters, Anderson wisely adds a narrator for exposition (Alec Baldwin). I’ll try to give a shorthand, which involves three grown-up Tenenbaum kids, all former child-geniuses (Ben Stiller, Gwyneth Paltrow and Luke Wilson), are now each going through their own distinct emotional problems when their absent father/family patriarch (Gene Hackman) returns to try and rejoin the family and announcing he’s diagnosed with stomach cancer and has six weeks to live, which not everyone believes. He is lying, but he’s also trying to stop his wife, (Anjelica Huston) from marrying her longtime friend and accountant (Danny Glover). There are too many things that go on from in between the beginning of the movie to the end that it would fill a book, which it does. The key to the movie is the opening scenes of a library book being checked out and the Chapter updates that begin each sequence of the film. The movie is faithful to the book, too faithful, it clearly adds so much additional information, divulges into character history and adds extra details to all its characters and then continues to add characters as the film goes on. That’s the genius is Wes Anderson and co-writer Owen Wilson script in that they took their original script and made it seem like a sprawling, elaborate family epic, or a parody of one. So rich in detail that it seems to grow upon every viewing, and when every little piece of the frame adds something new to the story. That’s an Anderson trait, whether a good movie or a bad movie, he continually fills the screen with so much extra stuff, not irrelevantly either, he has it all planned out, but there’s always something new to look at, and you’d be surprised how much it adds to the film. His films, especially this one, are as much as credit to the art direction, costumes and props as it is to the writing. The actors all play there parts with the perfect amount of either overacting as in Owen Wilson and Ben Stiller’s case, or with the perfect amount of underacting, as in Luke Wilson, Anjelica Huston, and in particular Bill Murray and Gwyneth Paltrow, two actors who have over the last decade mastered minimalist acting. Gene Hackman’s lead role as Royal Tenenbaum is at another level completely. Anderson’s comedies are as unique as Woody Allen’s but here, he is capable of using an Allen-esque plot and surround it with Zucker Brothers like jokes. It’s comedies like these that evolve over time and become more complicated on closer and closer inspection. Funny, sad, but never appearing too much so. The best comedies always have a way of becoming funnier on future viewings; I think some people who think “Rushmore,” was Anderson’s best film could benefit from more viewings of “…Tenenbaums”.
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