Royal flush

The Royal Tenenbaums

Directed by Wes Anderson

(Gene Hackman, Owen Wilson, Ben Stiller, Gwyneth Paltrow)




As far as eagerly anticipated films go this year, The Royal Tenenbaums rides high among the non-adaptation group. Sure, Potter and Lord are sure stealing the fire from Wes Anderson’s latest venture, but for those who adore Bottle Rocket and Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums is akin to the rebirth of the phoenix.

The story revolves around the Tenenbaum family, namely the parents Royal and Etheline, and their three children, Richie, Chas and Margot. Early in their lives, the Tenenbaum progeny all flirted with glimmers of genius in very unique fields. Yet, their father Royal, in one way or another, through lack of support or intellectual degrading, fucked up their lives. The film flashes forward 22 years when all family members are reunited in the same Upper West Side brownstone in New York to collect their respective poise and confront the dysfunctional eccentricity within their family. They must cope with each other and their estranged father as the film plays out the ensuing melodrama with splashes of Cimmerian humor.

There’s something almost Kubrickian about Wes Anderson. His attention to minutia, meticulous cinematography and use of vivid color are all characteristics of the sage-like Stanley Kubrick. There’s an immediate sense that every frame in the film could act as a still, a portrait representing the entire film. With Anderson, there’s no improvisation. Details, once hammered out by the director, are integrally immutable. Lighting and actor placement are marked out almost theatrically. The Royal Tenenbaums is by far the most intricately astute film in the three-film library of Anderson’s work. The yearbook motif used in Rushmore is once again utilized here as the characters are introduced with their name brandished across them in bold, white font. Anderson takes this concept one step further, separating the stories into literal chapters each accompanied by their own wood-carved picture.

The virtue and innocence of Bottle Rocket and Rushmore has faded. The Royal Tenenbaums is in truth a very poignant look at a dysfunctional, self-persecuting family. And while I can’t remember more than a handful of moments when the characters themselves laugh, peering omnisciently in on the witty flair of the Tenenbaum family elicits an armada of humor.


The Royal Tenenbaums opens Friday, Jan. 21 at the Uptown Theatre.