Sunday, 7 August 2011

The Royal Tenenbaums

Director Wes Anderson burst into the spotlight, atleast, critically, in the 90’s with the excellent Rushmore. His follow up, The Royal Tenenbaums, updates the quirky humour, eccentric characters, strong heart and confident direction of its predecessors.
The first few scenes are an absolutely perfect introduction; Alec Baldwin narrates a 4 minute skit, accompanied by a very gentle organ version of Hey Jude, whereby the Tenenbaum family are gently introduced. A family of incredibly talented personalities, through years of problems eating away at them, reunite in their dreamy New York home. Royal Tenenbaum, the absent roguish father who had left them at 12 years of age, feigns cancer in an effort to worm his way back into the family.
All the characters are great. They feel more like human charactures than people, with their adult sized versions of outfits they wore as children, but fantastic performances and real emotions bring them to life. The whole film has a dreamy, surreal quality to it. Every book look likes it is from the 1970’s, all the taxis are the same, Danny Glover and Bill Murray have ridiculous beards etc. The soundtrack is a marvellous compilation of semi-obscure 1960’s pop that shouldn’t fit, but with all the oddness going on it holds the film together. Wes Anderson has a gift for creating iconic scenes by merging clever editing and music, there are countless times like this I could mention, but the Judy Is A Punk scene is possibly the standout funniest moment in the film, just from a clever idea.
The thing is for all the quirk, this film has a touching emotional core. Royal is phenomenal, a well written character that Gene Hackman absolutely nails. He clearly, deeply loves his family but is too much of a rogue; lazy, insensitive, reckless and self-centred to be a real father. The film can be seen as therapy for all involved, however the problems are decades old and, for the most part, are Royals fault in the first place.
It’s hard to sell this film as a comedy, for all intents and purposes there isn’t a single joke, the humour is derived from far out behaviour amongst the cast. But this film is incredibly funny, more so is the feel good tone the film instils. A lot of tragedy happens over the course of the film and it can get fairly heavy, but the mood stays light and the laughs come in a steady drip. The ending is one of my favourite scenes in any film, as many years on we revisit the somewhat better family, and the humour, tragedy and happiness work together to tug on your heart strings. I’ve bawed my eyes out like a baby to this scene about 4 times already.
Wes Anderson has a strong catalogue, and Rushmore is definitely funnier, but the Royal Tenenbaums is a unique mix of humour, drama and talent that you owe it to yourself to track down.

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