I recently dusted off one of my favorite films of all time, The Royal Tenenbaums. Over a decade after its release in 2001, this is seen as one of Wes Andersons most classic films. The Royal Tenenbaums boasts an unbelievably star-studed cast: Gene Hackman, Anjelica Huston, Ben Stiller, Gwyneth Paltrow, Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, Danny Glover, Bill Murray, and a hypnotic narration by Alec Baldwin.
If you’ve never seen it, then stop reading and go buy it. Now.
The trials and eccentricities of the characters is the reason for this films inauguration into the cult classics. Gene Hackman is the apathetic and estranged father who reunites the family upon announcing his terminal illness. The movie begins with Alec Baldwin detailing the childhood of the three prodigy children. The audience is thrown into the present by the melodic momentum of Hey Jude.
There is Richie Tenenbaum, the favorite child of Gene Hackmans character Royal. Luke Wilson evokes genuine sympathy for this troubled ex-tennis star. It is a refreshing performance by Luke Wilson, one that I haven’t seen in any of his movies that followed.
Ben Stiller plays the over cautious and analytic business guru Chas Tenenbaum. Since his wife died in a plane crash, he has become a paranoid single father of two. Despite his financial success, Chas moves back in to his childhood home for safety reasons. Royal takes interest in Ari and Uzi by showing them how to break rules and disregard their over protective father.
Then, there is the complex character (and epic Halloween costume) that is Margot Tenenbaum. Gwyneth Paltrow plays the reluctantly adopted daughter, and troubled play write. What I love about this film is that no character is perfect, or even likeable, but they are so multi-faceted that it makes them real.
As Alec Baldwin narrates,
Margot disappeared alone for two weeks and came back with half a finger missing.
She was known for her extreme secrecy. For example, none of the Tenenbaums knew she was a smoker, which she had been since the age of twelve.
By confronting the past, their absent father attempts to glue the pieces of his family back together. Underneath the family drama, or perhaps central to it, is Margot and Richie Tenenbaum’s relationship. This semi-incestuous love story is so bizarre, it actually works.
One of the best scenes happens when Margot goes to meet Richie, who has been at sea for over a year. The connection and dialogue between the two is the most emotional of the entire cast.
I love/am obsessed with this soundtrack. For this scene, Wes Anderson used a version of Jackson Browne’s, “These Days,” sung by Nico. Perfect.
Richie Tenenbaum has been in love with his adopted sister his whole life. Because of this conundrum, Richie attempts to take his life. Set to Elliott Smiths requiem “Needle in the Hay,” this is the climax of the film, and a beautifully violent scene.
This is the best scene in a film that Luke Wilson has ever done. Period.
Another eccentric character is Richie’s best friend (Luke Wilson’s brother Owen), named Eli Cash. Eli lived across the street from the Tenenbaums and also lived vicariously through them. All grown up now, Eli is a drug-riddled history professor who is also in love with Margot. I am surprised that Owen Wilson played this complex character so effortlessly.
I was even more surprised when I found out that Owen Wilson co-wrote this screenplay. Apparently he is less of a dumb blonde than he appears. He gained my respect for this film so much, I forgive the 25 crappy movies he has starred in since.
In the end, the illness of their father brought the family together. Royal Tenenbaum realizes that the short amount of time spent with his family near his death was the best of his existence.
His tombstone reads…
Royal O’Reilly Tenenbaum 1932-2001
Died Tragically Rescuing His Family From The Wreckage Of A Destroyed Sinking Battleship