The Royal Tenenbaums

The Royal Tenenbaums

“All memory of the brilliance of the young Tenenbaums had been erased by two decades of betrayal, failure, and disaster.”

This film has been featured on my podcast, Peculiar Picture Show! Listen to this film’s podcast episode here.

We’ll probably never get a movie version of J.D. Salinger’s classic book Franny and Zooey; but The Royal Tenenbaums feels like it could be a sequel. Directed by art house director Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel, Fantastic Mr. Fox) and starring Gene Hackman and a host of other famous people, it tells the story of a troubled family that’s trying to discover what the word “family” means, even years after they’ve parted ways. It’s quirky, touching, and funny, and the Wes Anderson retro style is as charming here as anywhere else. Also, words can’t express how much I love the ending of this film. This is one of my all-time favorite movies and may be the most charming of Anderson’s films.

The plot tells the story of the Tenenbaum family. The father Royal and mother Etheline were successful and prestigious. The three children, Richie, Margot, and Chas, were each prodigies in their own way. The family was very talented, brilliant and successful. But they were never a great family, due largely in part to how much of a bastard Royal was (and still is). Now, years since his last conversation with any family member, Royal goes back to them with the news that he has a terminal disease. While there’s a fiasco or two, each character slowly learns that family is more important than success.

I’m very sorry for your loss. Your mother was a terribly attractive woman.

The Royal Tenenbaums has a retro book-inspired style (even though it wasn’t based on a book, aside from some aforementioned thematic ties to Franny and Zooey) that give this movie a very endearing charm. The writing, cinematography, music, and story pull you right in, even when the characters are being good-humoredly terrible people. The story and its characters are a bit larger than life, but the themes are so familiar that the movie has an instant camaraderie with most viewers. Also, Royal is such a bastard that you just have to laugh.

The Tenenbaum children react to the divorce announcement
Each of the children’s personalities here is evident and shapes who they become as adults.

At the core of the movie is a sad old man who has finally realized that a good family would have meant more to him than everything he’s chased after all of these years. We soon discover that each of the children, and even the kid next door, also longs for a family. They’ve been taught that success is everything, and go to great lengths to hide their vices; but as their secrets start coming out and they become vulnerable, they find themselves pulling together and caring for each other in unexpected ways. The movie does a great job of not overstating this and leaving it at subtle notions rather than hamfisted melodrama. The movie is very touching in its own way without losing any of the rebel charm that Royal so blatantly displays.

I’m sure I’m not doing this movie justice. It’s a fantastic and well-written movie with a brilliant style that distinguished Wes Anderson as one of the best filmmakers of his time. The quirky and somewhat dark humor will not appeal to everyone and it may just be too stylized for some, but many will appreciate the artistic finesse and nuanced message behind the film.

View my complete list of classic, essential, or just plain good movies!

Runtime: 1:50
Director: Wes Anderson
Year: 2001
Genres: comedy
Rating: R

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