(The Royal Tenenbaums, cast of characters)
The Royal Tenenbaums is one of my absolute favorite films. It is the movie that inspired me to write about film and to pursue a career in screenwriting. In my mind it is one of the most beautiful and expertly made films of recent memory. It is built up of gorgeously composed shots, a beautifully pastel color pallet, supreme performances by it’s cast, as well as a narrative that is both unorthodox and touching. The movie is a prolific piece in Wes Anderson’s career before his less successful (and mildly appropriative) The Darjeeling Limited (2007) as well as the creative but critically divisive film The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004). After these two slumps he returned to form with Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009), Moonrise Kingdom (2012), and The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), all of which we’re critically acclaimed and audience favorites. Anderson co-wrote the script with Owen Wilson (who also has a part in the film as Eli Cash) who is a frequent collaborator on Anderson’s projects. The fact that most of Anderson’s film are written by himself or with a collaborator speaks volumes to how carefully constructed his movies are. He has control from conception to finish and is involved with every process which allows him to bring his artistic vision to fruition in a wholly original fashion.
(The Tenenbaum Children: Margot, Chas, and Richie)
What separates The Royal Tenenbaums from Anderson’s other titles is the sheer volume of characters it deals with, all with completely different problems and lives. The Royal Tenenbaums follows the Tenenbaum family: Royal (Gene Hackman), Etheline (Anjelica Huston), Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow), Richie (Luke Wilson), and Chas (Ben Stiller) as they fight through differences and old feuds. The film takes a family dynamic and dissects it down to the intricacies with which family members actually interact. By tearing down the secrets and thoughts of each individual character Anderson shows the various viewpoints that familial life is made up of. A family unit is never just one point of view, it takes everyone’s opinions and views of one another to paint an accurate picture of a family. How one sibling can hate his father and the other can feel sympathy, how one may feel ostracized while the other is completely accepted.
(from left to right; Ben Stiller as Chas Tenenbaum, Danny Glover as Henry Sherman, Gwenyth Paltrow as Margot Tenenbaum, and Anjelica Huston as Etheline Tenenbaum)
My personal favorite scene from The Royal Tenenbaums is for character development and in terms of cinematic styles is the first interaction between Richie and Margot Tenenbaum after a number of years. Proving his true writing talent through his deliberate setup of the reunion scene between two people. The entire scene is built up around the tension and loss of tension within the few moments Richie and Margot make eye contact with each other after what could be considered a life time. When Richie takes his seat we see a green-line bus park in a line of other buses, with a wide angled fisheye shot, and then everything changes into slow motion. Margot steps off the bus in a medium close up so that we can only see her from the chest up. Her hair wisps about in the wind moving out of the way to show the way a moment can feel like decades as she slowly approaches him to Nico’s “These Days”. The audience see her truly smile for the first time in the film. This is interposed with shots of Richie’s face as she slowly starts to walk towards him, the relief is evident on his face as he sees her as she has both changed and remained the same. The scene continues with slow motion and a medium wide shot of Richie that slowly zooms in to his face, mimicking Margot’s walking. The way that the two look at each other in this scene, the acting, and the camera work come together to tell a story with no words. There is a slow panning shot upwards as the camera moves to catch the moment of reconciliation between Anderson’s character’s as they finally reunite. The shot reverse shots as the characters discuss between themselves, in no words except for Margot’s lines, the emotions that both felt in the absence of each others company. Margot saying “Stand up straight so I can get a look at you… well it’s nice to see you too…” with a smile and a deeply romantic hug the camera moves forward into a medium close up shot of the two. The viewer sees the first step towards a family that may be able to become whole again through the reunion of two siblings.
In my opinion, The Royal Tenenbaums is the film that nails down the intricacies, awkwardness, and terror of family life. Much like Little Miss Sunshine (2006, directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris) it embraces the bad and infuriating things that families do to one another, and how rather than dividing, these things bring families together. Anderson’s film is remniscant of what makes a family, a family. It’s not just the good times: it’s the bad times, the heartfelt moments, the arguments at the dinner table, the fight with your brother, the hug from your parents when you’ve had a bad year. Family is not just a word, as the film’s tagline says, it’s a sentence.
(Margot and Richie at the end of the film)