The Royal Tenenbaums

Writer/director Wes Anderson’s artsy comedies are so distinct, you’d never mistake a single frame of his movies for anyone else’s. 2001’s The Royal Tenenbaums showcases many of his hallmarks and themes: a mixed family of blood and adopted relatives separating and then banding together to overcome collective dysfunction, oddly brilliant characters whose clothes are identity uniforms, a simultaneous embracing and lampooning of academia, a labyrinthine set that functions like a cross between a playhouse and a fort, and a nice role for the great character actor Seymour Cassel. It’s Anderson’s most polarizing film in terms of accessibility, but it’s also his funniest.

Casting is crucial, and the Tenenbaums et al. are played by an ensemble cast mixing Anderson troop regulars like Bill Murray, Luke Wilson, and Owen Wilson (also a co-conspirator as co-writer) with newcomers like Anjelica Huston, Ben Stiller, Gwyneth Paltrow, Danny Glover, and above all an exuberant Gene Hackman as the great rascal patriarch, Royal Tenenbaum. Hackman is the engine that drives this madcap contraption at firecracker pace, scrapping with his crew and righting his wrongs. Also in Anderson tradition, beneath the satire and hyperbole, the dysfunctions are familiar and real, and the happy ending comes too quickly. There’s real emotional weight, but Anderson’s movies always leave you smiling because the key isn’t resolution so much as characters coming to grips with themselves and believing things will get better for everybody, if they can stick together.

The Royal Tenenbaums has a bold color palette, and while it’s never looked this clean and detailed, it’s still something of an oddity. While there’s plenty of small detail, there’s also an artificially processed texture to it. Since it’s always looked more or less like this, and this is a director-approved edition, I’ll take Criterion’s word that this is how it’s supposed to look. The sonic star of Anderson’s movies is always found in his unerringly smart and eclectic choices in music, and that’s the case here. Songs by Nico, Nick Drake, Elliott Smith, and others sound superb and are so fitting, you’d think they were written for the film. The extras are entirely ported from an earlier DVD, but they’re excellent. Stand-outs include Anderson’s commentary, a half-hour set of cast interviews, and a great series of stills in a “scrapbook.” Also included is a supercool mini-poster map of the Tenenbaum compound.

Studio: Criterion, 2001
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Audio Format: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Length: 110 mins.
MPAA Rating: R
Director: Wes Anderson
Starring: Gene Hackman, Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson