Although I've always been a fan of Wes Anderson's light, sharp "Bottle Rocket", "Rushmore" took some time for me to warm up to. The director's latest picture, "The Royal Tenenbaums", is a very enjoyable picture that includes some of the best performances of the year. It's also a film that I'm begining to appreciate even more since I've pondered it a little further and begin to write about it a day later.
The film boasts an exceptional cast, who are lead by Gene Hackman, who plays displaced father Royal Tenenbaum, ousted from the family for his inability to say the right thing to his children, who all think that he's something of a jerk. Chas (Ben Stiller), adopted Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow), and Richie (Luke Wilson) are a group of three child geniuses, but things never really lifted off the ground once they were adults. Once Royal comes home for a reunion, they begin to find that they're working out their issues, as is their mother Etheline (Angelica Huston).
But, it's not quite that easy. Royal, who now finds himself with less and less in the way of funds, has to talk his way back into the household, and what he comes up with results in a hilarious scene outside with Huston's character. The three children have lost their shine over the years: Chas has become paranoid; the previously well-recieved writer Margot now sits in the bathroom for most of the day, while Ritchie continues to live with the fact that he was once a great tennis star and then choked during one match. The grown-up children are not thrilled with their father's reappearance, especially Chas, whose resentment of his father leads to some brilliantly funny moments from Stiller.
But, Royal tries his best. As hurtful as his words can accidentially be, he really does appear sorry for the years of dismay that he put his family through and he wants to make things right again. Although it starts off as simply being jealous of Etheline's new suitor, his attempt really ends up as an opportunity to try and make things some level of right again between him and his family.
The performances in "Tenenbaums" are terrific. Hackman creates a multi-layered character who really gains our sympathy in his quest for redemption. Stiller is the funniest of any of the characters, using his way with dialogue to spit out lines with such hilarious anger. Paltrow and Luke Wilson turn in strong performances as well. The movie also boasts a superb supporting cast, including "Rushmore"'s Bill Murray and co-writer Owen Wilson. It's even narrated by Alec Baldwin.
What really makes the film even more successful is the technical side, which is often similar to "Rushmore". The same genre of music (60's pop/rock) is used consistently on the soundtrack and it gives the movie that additional energy, push and a bit more soul. Each of the songs are paired to their scenes with almost remarkable perfection; I often had the feeling during many scenes that I doubted if there was another piece of music better suited for that particular sequence. The film's production design, set decoration and costume work are also exceptionally strong, with great detail apparent. Robert Yeoman ("Rushmore", Paltrow's "Bounce")'s cinematography also deserves special mention, creating a similar widescreen landscape to "Rushmore", isolating characters in the midst of endless outdoor backgrounds, while interior conversations are expertly composed.
If anything, my only complaints were a few moments in the middle that could have been tightened slightly. "Tenenbaums" does occasionally get a bit more dramatic and heavy than Anderson's previous two films, but this is generally handled well. A few other things to mention: it's a bit of a suprise that Murray, who was the best thing about "Rushmore", isn't given much more than an extended cameo here. I'm still getting used to Anderson's somewhat deadpan style, but "Tenenbaums" is the director's most mature work, blending sharp, quick and clever humor with some greater substance and underlying sadness.
I enjoyed "The Royal Tenenbaums" while I was watching it, but it's grown on me in the hours following as I pondered the richly detailed film, with its superb performances. Even after warming to it further, I'm still not going to say its without a few minor concerns, but I will certainly say I believe "Royal Tenenbaums" to be one of the best pictures I've seen in 2001.