Friday, August 06, 2010

The Royal Tenenbaums

Originally Written and Posted at on 10/6/04.

Since arriving onto the independent film scene in 1996 with the quirky caper film Bottle Rocket, Austin, Texas filmmaker Wes Anderson has been known for his hilarious, sentimental views on the world and life in general. Co-written with actor Owen Wilson, Bottle Rocket became a cult hit as it earned Anderson the Best New Filmmaker award at the 1996 MTV Movie Awards. In 1998, Anderson helmed his sophomore feature, Rushmore about a young high school kid who begins to compete with a millionaire over the affections of a grade school teacher. Written with Owen Wilson, Rushmore was hailed as a landmark film for its absurd views on life and ambitions from an underachieving kid that also gave Anderson the prestigious New Generation Award from the L.A. Critics Association while comedian Bill Murray was receiving numerous acclaim for his role as the eccentric millionaire. In 2001, Anderson returned with a more ambitious ensemble film about a family crumbing from its own failures with the father desperately trying to save them for his own reasons until he realizes his own faults.

Entitled The Royal Tenenbaums based on a script from Anderson and Owen Wilson, it's a multi-layered story of the scheming, cruel Royal Tenenbaum trying to scam his family while seeing their own failures after 20 years of problems. Inspired by the works of J.D. Salinger, the film is Anderson's most offbeat project to date that features sentimental references and ideas that drives the dysfunctional Tenenbaum family. Starring Anderson regulars Owen and Luke Wilson, Kumar Pallana, Seymour Cassel, and Bill Murray along with Gene Hackman, Anjelica Huston, Ben Stiller, Gwyneth Paltrow, Danny Glover, and Alec Baldwin as the narrator. The Royal Tenenbaums is a stark, funny tale of healing and redemption.

The story begins where after years of marriage, Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman) and wife Etheline (Anjelica Huston) are separating with Royal leaving the house. With Royal gone from the house though he frequently visits the children, Etheline chose to raise them herself. The eldest Tenenbaum child Chas (Aram Aslanian-Perisco) had become a successful real estate agent when he was very young while creating a breed of Dalmatian mice. Their adopted child Margot (Irene Gorovaia) graduated high school at an early age and became a successful playwright where she received a Braverman Grant of $50,000 in the ninth grade. The youngest, Richie (Amedeo Turturro, son of actor John Turturro) was a junior tennis player champion and eventually won the U.S. nationals three years in a row while trying to develop as a painter. Yet, the brilliance of the young Tenenbaum children would be erased by 20 years of betrayal, failure, and disaster.

22 years since Royal's separation from Etheline, the Tenenbaum family is all but estranged. Royal had become a litigator till the mid-1980s while staying at the Lindbergh hotel. Etheline had become an archeologist while being around numerous suitors before she finally considers one in an accountant named Henry Sherman (Danny Glover). Richie (Luke Wilson) had since retired from tennis after a public breakdown where he is sailing across the oceans where he only contacts his old childhood friend-turned-successful novelist Eli Cash (Owen Wilson) through telegram. Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow) did more plays but for years, she hadn't done one while being married to neurologist Raleigh St. Clair (Bill Murray), who is working on a project for his new book. Chas (Ben Stiller) has become paranoid about safety after the death of his wife in a plane crash where he's raising his two sons Ari (Grant Rosenmeyer) and Uzi (Jonah Meyerson). Chas chooses to move back into the old Tenenbaum home with his children to the surprise of Etheline.

Margot also decides to move in as her marriage to Raleigh is disintegrating and at the same time after the doctor, Royal tells Etheline he's got six weeks to live while suffering from stomach cancer. Etheline tells the news to the family including Richie via telegram where he comes home and Royal tells the kids about the news. He also learns from the family's longtime servant Pagoda (Kumar Pallana) about Henry, who is in pursuit of having a serious relationship with Etheline. Royal later gets kicked out of the Lindbergh hotel where with help from bellhop Dusty (Seymour Cassel), he gets a chance to move back to the Tenenbaum house to the disgust of Chas, who sued his father years earlier over money. For a week, Royal tries to connect with his family where he would often go into recklessness with Ari and Uzi while visiting the grave of Chas' wife and Royal's mother. Then Royal notices that Margot is having an affair with Eli, while Raleigh is seeking Richie's help in finding out about the affair.

After Henry exposes Royal's scam, Royal leaves the house with Pagoda where his departure would mark tragic consequences. After learning about Margot's secret life including her first marriage and her numerous affairs including Eli, Raleigh is distraught and Richie attempts suicide after being found by Raleigh's current subject Dudley (Stephen Lea Sheppard). Margot, who broke off her affair with Eli, was exposed where the family is in shock and after Richie escapes from the hospital where he briefly decides to have a secret affair with Margot, he turns to his father for help. Royal, who now works as an elevator operator at the Lindbergh hotel, realizes the problems his family is suffering and decides to try and help them all, even Eli, who is suffering from a drug problem after the failure of his recent book.

What makes The Royal Tenenbaums such an interesting, fascinating film is its mix of humor and melancholy through Wes Anderson's offbeat world. While the movie echoes the works of Hal Ashby and Louis Malle along with references to the late Charles Schultz Peanuts comics, it's a film that really explores the dysfunction of families. Though some had complained the film was too strange to get into, it's a film that really has no clear genre but Anderson is truly a storyteller who brings in sentimental moments of life. Directing-wise, Anderson really captures a different New York City that doesn't feature any landmarks while showing some strange, idiosyncratic moments that involve family or quirks. Anderson's script that was co-written with Owen Wilson is part character study kind of film while it reveals what drives the family into failure and the resentments they have brought upon each other. It's a very smart, intricate kind of film.

Anderson's directing style is truly captured visually by the work of cinematographer Robert D. Yeoman, who brings in a bleak but colorful look of New York City and the quirky world of the Tenenbaum home on 111 Archer Avenue. Helping Yeoman visually is production designer David Wasco and art director Carl Sprague for the look of the colorful, wooden world of the Tenenbaum house that also features artwork from Wes's brother Eric who does the paintings of Richie's room and the paintings of Margot. Wasco also provides the strange set designs of Margot's early plays while in Eli's room, we see strange paintings from Mexican artist Miguel Calderon. With Yeoman using a blue filter for the disturbing scene of Richie attempting suicide, there's a fine use of the jump cut editing from Daniel R. Padgett and Dylan Tichenor, who brings a more traditional, straightforward approach to editing that helps the story moves. Also giving credit with the film's look is costume designer Karen Patch for her look on the Tenenbaum family's look from Richie tennis player look, Margot's long dress, and Chas's Adidas sports suit.

If there's another Wes Anderson has done great with all of his films, it's his choice of music with a wonderful, melancholic score from Devo co-founder Mark Mothersbaugh for its mix of jazz and traditional orchestra. With music supervisor Randall Poster on the helm, the film's soundtrack is a mix of lush jazz scores of the Vince Guaraldi trio and orchestral work from Ysaye Quartet to more rock stuff from the Clash, the Ramones, the Velvet Underground, Nico, Elliot Smith, Nick Drake, Bob Dylan, Emitt Rhodes, Van Morrison, John Lennon, the Rolling Stones, and a wonderful orchestral version of the Beatles'"Hey Jude" in the film's opening prologue.

With the film featuring a diverse cast of actors that includes small parts from Anderson regulars, leading the pack in the cast are the children. The performances of the young Tenenbaum children by Aram Aslanian-Persico, Irene Gorovaia, Amedeo Turturro, and James Fitzgerald as the young Eli Cash are all naturally performed with Grant Rosenmeyer and Jonah Meyerson both having wonderful moments in their gracious performances as Ari and Uzi Tenenbaum, respectively. Stephen Lea Sheppard brings a quirky performance as Raleigh's strange subject Dudley with his off-color performance while Anderson regular Seymour Cassel is great as Dusty. Kumar Pallana brings a great performance as Pagoda in his scenes with Gene Hackman and even steals the show in a scene where he stabs him after the two get kicked out the Tenenbaum home. Danny Glover meanwhile, is the film's straight man where he gives the most normal and straightforward performance of the film with his disciplined, clean-cut manner and sensitive portrayal of Etheline's suitor who proves to have more than what is expected, especially from her troubled marriage to Royal.

Bill Murray delivers a wonderfully deadpan performance as the neurologist Raleigh St. Clair with his sad, devastating role as Margot's neglected husband while Murray got to show a bit of his quirks in his scene with Sheppard. It's truly one of Murray's best performances where he can do so little and be touching at the same time. Owen Wilson is hilarious as the paranoid, quirky Eli Cash with his strange theories about General Custer and the world while we see that he's filled with sadness to since he always wants to be a member of the Tenenbaum family and is yearning for their approval by sending Etheline his grades and clippings.

Luke Wilson gives a wonderful performance as Richie who seems to be the only one close to Royal while he learns why his siblings aren't where he tries to save the family at first but his own problems and his feelings for Margot get in the way as Luke brings in his most complex performance to date. Gwyneth Paltrow gives a wonderfully restrained, troubled performance as Margot who is lost in her own depression and we learn why she smokes and have affairs along with the story of her finger and the neglect she suffered from Royal. Paltrow brings in a lovely, subtle tone to a character that is deeply troubled and someone we feel for.

Ben Stiller is funny and sad in his role as Chas with his sense of paranoia and fear while we see him go out of control when things go wrong. Stiller, who is often funny in several of his films, goes for a more dramatic approach and it works very well here since he's just playing a man who lost his wife and is frustrated by the lack of love he gets from his father. Anjelica Huston is amazing as Etheline Tenenbaum with her complex feelings of love where she's still in love with Royal even though she despises him at the same time while she realizes there's love from Henry. Huston proves herself to be more than just a wife and mother by playing a woman who is independent yet is trying to find answers.

Gene Hackman is truly the film's best performance with his role as Royal Tenenbaum with his scheming ways and macho-like ways. Hackman brings sympathy to a character we're not really supposed to like but we end up loving him because he's a man that's trying to do right for himself and his family. Hackman has wonderful scenes with not just the children but also with Huston, Paltrow, and Glover, the Wilson brothers, and Stiller while he's truly in charge in a role that allows him to be funny, sad, and wise at the same time. Hackman is truly an actor who continually brings in performances that actors should be giving, as he gets better and more eccentric with each performance.

From the film's 2002 Criterion DVD release, The Royal Tenenbaums features a 2-DVD set filled with extras and the actual movie. The first disc only includes the movie with a widescreen digital transfer supervised by Wes Anderson along with Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 Surround Sound. The only other feature that appears in the first disc is an audio commentary from Wes Anderson who gives in some great insight to the film and its references including the dog Buckley that was named after Jeff Buckley and was a tribute to Snoopy. The film's commentary is Anderson being a bit funny but also insightful in the inspiration behind the characters including Etheline, which is partly inspired by his mother.

The film's second disc is filled with many features including a 30-minute IFC-produced special that shows Wes Anderson making The Royal Tenenbaums where it's an insightful special on how the film is being made while we see Anderson work closely with his collaborators. Also featured are interviews with the film's main cast that gives great insight from the actor's perspective on their characters with Bill Murray being the more eccentric with his answers while being more straightforward while Danny Glover was actually a bit funnier on the set. The film also includes a few outtakes that included a dangerous scene involving Anjelica Huston's hair nearly being burnt by a birthday cake candle and Bill Murray talking about the Dalmatian mice and Kumar doing his tricks.

One of the strangest features is a fake interview with Peter Bradley (Larry Pine) who talks to Kumar Pallana and his son Dipak plus Stephen Dignan, Sanjay Mathew, and Brian Tenenbaum who aside from Kumar played smaller roles while Brian is awaiting the arrival of the third Wilson brother, Andrew. Along with theatrical trailers and TV spots, the film also includes a collection of Eric Anderson's drawings, a photo gallery from set photographer James Hamilton, and designs from the movie plus the works of Miguel Calderon including a radio interview from the painter on Studio 360. This DVD is clearly one of the best works from the Criterion Collection and a must-have for Anderson fans.

Overall, The Royal Tenenbaums is a majestic, sprawling film from Wes Anderson with a great cast and crew on the helm. Though some might be turned off by its offbeat tones and quirkiness, Anderson has helmed a sentimental yet funny story that is filled with depth-driven characters and multi-layered storylines that is wonderfully narrated by Alec Baldwin. With a great soundtrack, evocative cinematography and look, it's a movie that makes Wes Anderson one of the most creative and eccentric directors of his generations. While films like Rushmore and Bottle Rocket delivers more laughs, The Royal Tenenbaums at least can give you something more to cheer about.

© thevoid99 2010

No comments: