Mar 21, 2014

[Movies] The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

It was after watching the movie Rushmore that I began to fall in love with the quirky creative style of Wes Anderson. His movies are wonderfully distinct and the rather eclectic approach to storytelling that has become his signature style is certainly refreshing. Despite how more and more movie makers seem to be aligning their creative efforts with what guarantees box office success, directors like Anderson continue to strike out on their own  to create the kind of movies that they want to make.

The Royal Tenenbaums was the movie released after Rushmore, but more one reason or another I never got around to watching it in full. I've seen snippets of it here and there but never actually sat down to watch it in its entirety. And while waiting for the release of Anderson's latest film, The Grand Budapest Hotel, I decided to revisit his past works and address the gaps in my viewing history

You know how we geeks are - we tend to be completists in many different things. And in my case, it's watching movies that fit together in some sort of a classification - whether they're all linked together by a franchise or a common director.

Synopsis: The Royal Tenenbaums is a 2011 comedy-drama film written, directed and produced by Wes Anderson. Owen Wilson also co-wrote the screenplay for his movie.

The movie begins with the Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman), patriarch of the Tenenbaum family, that he is separating from wife, Etheline (Anjelica Huston). Despite this, the young Tenenbaums all go on to great success at such and early age. Chas becomes a math genius and he applies himself to the world of business from an early age. Margot is the adopted daughter and she comes a successful young playright. Finally Richie becomes a tennis prodigy and a passionate artist, although Margot seems to be his primary subject.

22 years later, we see that Royal is down on his luck and his already being kicked out of the hotel where he has been living the past few years. He learns that his ex-wife Etheline is considering the marriage proposal of her accountant, Henry Sherman (Danny Glover), and he hatches a scheme to win back her affection and that of the children. He tells her that he is suffering from stomach cancer. She takes him in and calls all of their children home - all of them dealing with a post-success slump in their adulthood. Richie (Luke Wilson) continues to struggle with his feelings for Margot. Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow) hides her smoking and other secrets from her neurologist husband. And Chas (Ben Stiller) has become a somewhat paranoid single parent after losing his wife in a car accident.

I feel as if it's in this movie that Anderson truly determined his style for these sorts of comedy drama movies of his. Sure, we had already gotten a taste for this in Rusmore. but there the way that Anderson is able to juggle a rather sizeable cast to tell a fairly complex story really came into focus. And thus we have the highly unique narrative flow all tied together by quirky captions rendered in the Futura font.

It's interesting how most of the actors performed their roles in an almost completely deadpan manner. As much as Chas had his outbursts of anger and Royal himself had his theatrics - for the whole everyone seems to be unusually cold and calm most of the time. It's sort of a signature of Anderson's movies - characters that seem to be forever putting up some sort of facade and struggle with repressed secrets and emotions. And this is in stark contrast to the elaborate sets, the warm yet colorful pallette that defines the stylings of all outfits in the movie and all the other crazy stuff. It's as if by presenting the characters as this calm, they act as contrasts against with the events of the story unfold.

And many times the events themselves seem so outrageous and bizzare and the absurdity of it all is heightened further by the fact that everyone just takes things in stride. And thus the humor is subtle and yet also blatant. But the more obvious bits tend to be very dry in tone for the most part. And while this may not sound all that appealing on paper, they come together wonderfully on the screen.

And Anderson really has an eye for constructing shots and sequences that are both simple and yet elaborate at the same time. He makes extensive use of longer shots and camera pans that cross through walls as we follow a character walk from one room to another. All these go into defining what makes these movies distinctly his.

The Royal Tenenbaums is a brilliant piece of film-making and one that I strongly recommend to all of you. Admittedly you may not quite "get it" the first time around, but the movie - and Anderson's style as a whole - should grown on you in time. The movie gets 4.5 efforts by the neighbor Eli Cash (Owen Wilson) to get the attention of the Tenenbaums out of a possible 5.

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