1998's "Rushmore," my choice for the best film of that respective
year, divulged writer-director Wes Anderson's talent for offbeat tales
with lovably oddball characters. Anderson's follow-up, "The Royal
Tenenbaums," acquires the same original filmmaking style of "Rushmore,"
but falls apart in its over-ambition. Anderson and screenwriting partner
Owen Wilson have found themselves in way over their heads with this
failed attempt at mixing comedy with serious issues. In "The Royal
Tenenbaums," the comedy is threadbare, the drama plays like an afterthought,
and there are too many characters to thoroughly develop any one of
them in the 106-minute running time.
Cleverly broken up into chapters, as if it were a book, the film tells
of the Tenenbaums, a family of dysfunctional geniuses headed uncaring
father, Royal (Gene Hackman), and struggling mother, Etheline (Anjelica
Huston). Adopted daughter Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow) was a Pultizer
Prize winning playwright at the age of 9, while son Chas (Ben Stiller)
was a teenage real estate big-shot, and son Richie (Luke Wilson) was
a pro tennis player. Now all grown up and with severe individual hang-ups
that have put their careers on hold, Margot, Chas, and Richie move
back into the Tenenbaum home just as Royal, currently split from Etheline,
returns himself, saying he only has six weeks to live.
Watching "The Royal Tenenbaums" unfold with one misstep after the
next is a depressing experience made all the more calamitous because
of the fall in quality from Anderson's "Rushmore." The Tenenbaum family
are supposed to be dysfunctional, and they are, but no plausibly concrete
reasons for this family's downfall are given. In fact, the characters
and their relationships with one another are so underdeveloped and
rottenly conceived that never are they even believable as a familial
unit. Wes Anderson has broadened his palette with his latest picture
but, in doing so, has stripped the story of warmth and the characters of empathy.
The cast, made up of one glorious talent after the next, give understated,
dry performances without any room to breath. Every line of dialogue
and character interaction feels written and most of the plotting is
strictly at the service of what Anderson wants to happen next. Apparently,
he also discouraged his actors from appearing naturalistic, as each
performance seems studied and tightly methodical.
Despite being more of director Wes Anderson's fault, the acting Gene
Hackman (2001's "Behind Enemy Lines"), Gwyneth Paltrow (2001's "Shallow
Hal"), Anjelica Huston (1998's "Ever After"), Luke Wilson (1999's
"Blue Streak"), and Owen Wilson (2001's "Zoolander") deliver is some
of their weakest in memory. Other supporting work from the likes of
Bill Murray (1998's "Rushmore") and Danny Glover (1998's "Beloved"),
as Margot's older husband and Etheline's new beau, respectively, couldn't
have possibly been more wasteful. Since there is no one to grow attached
to, there is nothing to care about as the film misguidedly progresses.
The soundtrack, including the likes of The Rolling Stones, The Beach
Boys, The Beatles, The Ramones, Nick Drake, The Clash, and The Velvet
Underground, is vibrant and noticeably more alive than the living
and breathing human actors are. The cinematography by Robert D. Yeoman
(2000's "Beautiful") and many of the scene setups are also pure genius
in their innovative nature. These choice, if too sparse, moments sneak
through enough that they raise "The Royal Tenenbaums" from being just
plain bad to simply an example of a great filmmaker's temporary downfall.
Copyright © 2002 Dustin Putman