Wes Anderson is one of my favorite directors. His last two movies were the Grand Budapest Hotel and Moonrise Kingdom. He is often criticized for his arch characters, his obsession with costuming and set design, and for making “twee” or “emo” movies.
I understand were those critiques are coming from; but I think those apply more to his imitators. His movies are highly stylized, but his characters all have emotional depth. His stories are almost always strong. The costumes are important to who the characters are. The sets are often part of the story. He’s not being stylish just to be stylish.
Anyway, I love nearly every Anderson film but the Royal Tenenbaums is my favorite. I return to it again and again. I think it’s the best example of the great parts of his filmic style.
The Tenenbaums are a family of former child prodigies. Chas (Ben Stiller) was a young financial whiz, he started his own company and began financial trading at a young age. Richie (Luke Wilson) is a former world champion tennis player. Their younger sister Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow) is a playwright who won her first dramatic award very young. They were raised by in New York by their mother Etheline ( Angelica Huston) after their father Royal (Gene Hackman) dropped out of their lives.
As adults, the children are no longer successful and are all having personal crises. They end up back in their old childhood home together. Royal is kicked out of his hotel and decides to pretend he has cancer so he can stay at the Tenenbaum house as well.
Royal tries to make amends with his estranged children and help them with their internal crises. Eventually his deception is found out and they all deal with the fallout from that as well.
Why It’s Great
It sounds like a simple story, but it feels like so much is going on and the viewer gets caught up in the Tenenbaum family’s lives. Despite their flaws, you root for these characters and feel for them. The actors do a very good job of making these flawed characters sympathetic. And believe it or not, the costumes help create the characters as well.
There are a few scenes that detractors may decry as emo or say that Anderson went over the top with the soundtrack, directing, costuming, etc. But I would disagree; the direction in this movie is flawless. While certain choices of shot selection or soundtrack song may seem too on the nose; the pacing, emotion, and tone of the movie is perfect throughout.
It’s hard to describe but this movie feels like the New York from a Salinger story, or Harriet the Spy, or From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. It’s a sort of magical version of New York that never really existed.
The Tenenbaum house is almost a character in itself. It certainly helps shape many of the scenes and the interpersonal dynamics.
This is the best use of Wes Anderson’s directing quirks. If you like his work this is probably already one of your favorite movies. If you’re wary of a certain types of indie films for being too precious I can see how you how you wouldn’t feel like checking out this film. But there is a real story here, with real character, and real emotions.