Out of all of the Wes Anderson films that I have seen so far (Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, Hotel Chevalier, The Darjeeling Limited, and Rushmore—in that order), The Royal Tenenbaums remains my favorite. Now, perhaps this was because it was my first exposure to Wes Anderson and I didn’t have any expectations of him as a writer/director/producer. Perhaps, if anything, I was expecting more of a family comedy, a film that I could spend two hours on and quickly forget. However, I did hear excellent things about the movie from many different people, so I suppose I had some enthusiasm going into it. And this enthusiasm was not faulty. The Royal Tenenbaums is really excellent for a number of reasons. Besides those listed above, what I find to be the most endearing about the film is the family dynamics. Despite everything, this family is quite normal in the sense that they are trying to connect with each other, but are failing. A collection of different shades of personalities, it is sometimes hard to imagine that they are all related to one another (with the exception of Margot Tenenbaum, who is adopted and frequently has her foster father—Royal—remind her of that fact). And, in families, this disbelief is quite common.
I suppose I should describe a bit of the plot. The movie concerns a father, Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman), who wishes to reunite with his wife and children after abandoning them many years prior. The children, who were once prodigies in their fields of sports, business, and writing, have now become lackluster adults (the adult children are Ben Stiller, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Luke Wilson. Owen Wilson is also there as the neighborhood friend who still tags along and is considered family.). Of course, after years of being apart, no one really wants to reconnect with the fathers. So, to help alleviate this, the father lies about having terminal cancer. And the story goes from there. Deadpan dramedy may be one way to describe this film. What I love about it, though, is that the movie does not just fit nicely into a single genre category, which is rather appropriate considering that this family does not fit into the conventional family mold. Out of all the children, Margot Tenenbaum (Gwyneth Paltrow) is undoubtedly my favorite. Up until this time, I was not aware of Paltrow as a performer. I knew her name and might have been exposed to her acting in one or two small parts, but nothing stuck with me. It was seeing her as Margot, shifting expertly between hurt, betrayal, depression, and longing that convinced me how great Paltrow could be. (For some reason, as I have later discovered, she is great at playing roles that require depression: Country Strong, Sylvia, Prime, Running with Scissors, and so on). The story is somewhat calculated in a Wes Anderson way. You know that you are viewing a world that is somewhat fantasy due to the stylized way that the story is being told. Yet, due to the strong script and characterizations, these director trademarks do not interfere with the story. The chances are that, if you have a family, you will relate, and seek pleasure in, The Royal Tenenbaums.
Pair this with: If you want to pair this with a book, I would suggest Franny and Zoey by J.D. Salinger. As mentioned in another post (I hope I am not quoting myself here), there are a lot of connections that one can make between the writings of Salinger and those of Anderson. Despite playing with different characters, the themes and the delivery of the stories carry a similar tone that does not feel like copying as much as it is complimentary of one another. Both also show what great conversation can occur while in a bathtub.