Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson have defined a style in their films. The formula is simple: take a few glum characters, plop
them in front of a camera, stick in a quirky romance and let them loose. This has gained the duo many admirers, but IM not
one of them. Their films aren't depressing, just uninteresting and unpleasant. And after enduring the highly overrated "Rushmore",
it's high time this formula worked.
Gene Hackman is Royal Tenenbaum, a man bent on getting his family back after
learning his wife Etheline (Anjelica Huston), who he never officially divorced, was with another man (Danny Glover as Henry
Sherman). The Tenenbaum children are Chas (Ben Stiller), Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow), and Richie (Luke Wilson). Chas is a financial
consultant of some sort with two children. Margot is a Pulitzer Prize winning playwright who has always been known as the
"adopted daughter". She doesn't communicate often with her husband Raleigh St. Clair (Bill Murray), and is having
an affair with her childhood friend Eli Cash (Owen Wilson). Richie is a retired pro tennis player who has fallen in love
with his sister. One day, Royal confronts Etheline and (in one of the funniest confessionals i've seen in a while) tells
her he's dying. Is he? Of course not, but he wants his family back. Due to one thing or another, they all move in under
one roof, and from there sparks fly.
I had a wonderful time at "The Royal Tenenbaums". Anderson and Wilson
have taken their normal formula and gave it a personal touch, resulting in a funny, honest effort. Unlike its morbid predecessor,
"The Royal Tenenbaums" is warm and loves it's characters. The Tenenbaums are a family that has already achieved
their goals in life and are now stuck with nowhere to go. They can only go back and catch what they missed: the feeling of
really being a family, of caring for each other. Royal is making an honest effort to do this, but the only way he can try
and gain his family's respect is to try to fake his own death. His "fresh start" is represented through Chas's
two sons, who see Royal through a new pair of eyes.
Oh yeah, and it's funny, too. "The Royal Tenenbaums"
is full of fresh jokes and has ITS share of pratfalls, but it's in the characters that much of the humor lies. Pagoda (Kumar
Pallana), Royal's friend and a doorman for the Tenenbaums, is played down perfectly so that when he explodes, you'll be laughing
so hard you'll be begging for air. And Royal is a terrible actor; trying to convince his family he is dying of stomach cancer
while he is out jumping into pools, driving go-carts and eating cheeseburgers. "Tenenbaums" revels in these kinds
of ironic switch-arounds, giving the audience plenty to enjoy.
The ensemble cast of "Tenenbaums" works
nearly perfectly, with each other and in and of themselves. Gene Hackman's performance as Royal is pitch-perfect; giving
Royal the edge he needs to win his family and the viewer over. The rest of the cast is exceptional as well, including Gwyneth
Paltrow looking a lot like Christina Ricci, Owen Wilson doing a stoner and Anjelica Huston exquisitely handling her role as
the woman caught up in the middle of it all. Some characters became a chore to watch after a short while. I was completely
under whelmed with Bill Murray's Raleigh St. Clair. St. Clair is such a flat, empty character that there was no way I could
sympathize with him when Margo ran away with another man. There's a difference between understated and soulless, and unfortunately,
Murray does what he did for "Rushmore" and walks on the latter half of the spectrum (Billy Bob Thornton's performance
in "The Man Who Wasn't There" is a good example of a well handled quiet performance). Also, what was the purpose
of St. Clair's patient? Is his presence alone supposed to be funny? I wasn't laughing.
Warts and all, "The
Royal Tenenbaums" is a family affair brought to you buy those who specialize in gloom. However, what separates "Tenenbaums"
is how lovingly pieced together it is, with its characters kicking away from "depressed mode" and actually developing.
With a smart screenplay, (for the most part) wonderful acting and a touch of warmth, you can't go wrong with "Tenenbaums".