The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) Directed by Wes Anderson

Family disagreements, forced silences, different perspectives; nothing brings as much turmoil and discomfort as families at war. I have always seen myself as the black sheep in my family, I seemed to embrace my adopted nation's cultural values much more than the rest of my family (England, compared to my parents' Italy.) I also lacked any moral allegiance to religious guidance. It's still like that really. I love my family dearly, but one has to acknowledge the difference. The Royal Tenenbaums does not impact on my own family in any way. It is however, one of my favorite films of recent times.

After Rushmore, it's fair to say that The Royal Tenenbaums was the movie where Wes Anderson not only cemented his reputation as being a visually stylish director but also a distinctive one. Nowadays you can see the influence of this film everywhere. It's in the color co-ordination of the sets and characters, the bloody great use of soundtrack (Elliot Smith, Nico, The Velvet Underground) that gives hints it's an Anderson movie. But as well as embracing Bill Murray in his movies, it's the fact that Anderson knows how to use the goddess that is Angelica Huston. He remembers that Huston was the daughter of John and the lover of Jack and affords her the true presence and authority of character that Angelica should always demand in her roles. The Royal Tenenbaums also acknowledges that Gene Hackman, when on form, is the equal to any actor out there. His lovable scoundrel Royal is the beating heart here, Hackman brings this one to life.

So, we get tragedy and laughs in equal measure, but neither seems out of place or uncomfortable in this context. The big issues, life and love and death are dealt with. I love this film. Nothing in mainstream American cinema really compares. Anderson may never make a movie as great as this again (though he's come close). Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Stiller and Luke Wilson certainly won't. If this has somehow alluded you, go find it now. The Royal Tenenbaums is masterful entertainment.

The Royal Tenenbaums was a movie Nick and I watched in 2002. It was one of the early cinema experiences we shared – we even found a huge poster for the film and hung it on our kitchen wall for some years. Therefore the aesthetic of all subsequent Wes Anderson movies and their continual dealing with love and dysfunction have felt directly personal to me – or to us – in my interpretation. The film meant so much to me on so many levels that when my parents were divorcing in 2005, I gave my dad a copy of the film thinking he would appreciate it. He hated The Royal Tenenbaums.

It is a movie about an estranged father trying to make it back to his family after years of neglect and wrong doing. Yet, it is not only about the dad and his often failing attempts to get back the love he is missing. There are the children and their mother. The three adult children (played by Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Stiller, Luke Wilson) who one by one move back to the family home and suffer from various degrees of depression, are at the heart of the story. The mother (Angelica Houston), who is about to marry her longtime friend and accountant, is there too. The point is that they can all move on in their personal lives through the confrontation with the returning father/husband.

Wes Anderson knows how to make an intelligent and deeply-felt drama, while at the same time, showing the comic side of life. He wrote the script with Owen Wilson. The other thing that Anderson is a master at is the look of every frame in his pictures. Viewing his shots, as well as his moving scenes, as detailed portraits (almost like paintings) of characters is essential. There is thought to each detail, reason for each strayed hair. In a long relationship you sometimes question whether the partners involved have anything left from the selves they were at the beginning of things. It is hard to remember. The Royal Tenenbaums is our relationship ruler, by which we can measure how far then is from now.


  1. Royal Tenenbaum always reminded me of Zorba the Greek. The film makes me think of a sequel to Zorba in which Zorba finally embraced "the full catastrophe": wife, house, children, and what happens after.

  2. I think people are seriously underestimating the importance of the Hound in this season. They brought him back for a real reason. He may play a pivotal part in all this.
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