The Royal Tenenbaums

How great it was that I didn’t let the comparison stop me from seeing what is the best films I saw in 2001.

I’ve been a fan of Wes Anderson’s from the beginning. I saw Bottle Rocket twice in theatres (a rare feat in itself outside of Star Wars movies) and even bought the film on laserdisc. And I saw Rushmore twice in theatres, but I felt guilty that I saw the first time on Lucasfilm’s dime, since I was doing THX theatre checks at the time. So with little trepidation, I trundled over to the Lincoln Square to catch the film…

SOLD OUT! A Monday evening show in a 375 seat theatre. Good job, Wes. Except I wanted to see the film. So I bought a ticket to Vanilla Sky and snuck into the other theatre with plenty of time to spare. That’s the good thing about arriving a half hour early.

The Tenenbaums are about the most pathetic family that’s been introduced to cinema goers in quite a while. Father Royal is a scoundrel lawyer who walks out on his family one day. Oldest son Chas is a sad sack of a kid with a penchant for money management. Daugther Margot is a brilliant writer who never gets any self respect due to her father’s constant pointing out she is adopted. Youngest son Richie was a champion tennis player who one day had a breakdown during the US Open and has just drifted around since then. Only mother Etheline is relatively self adjusted, having survived her husband’s abandonment by writing a best selling book about her three gifted children.

Now, what is most important to understand about Tenenbaums going in is that it takes its own sweet time to tell its story, much like a novel. The sections of the film are even broken into chapters, with closeup shots of pages where the next scene we are about to see is somewhat described in the top sentences of that page. The setup I described in the paragraph above covers nearly twenty minutes of screen time, neatly textured in detail with great voiceover narration by Alec Baldwin. And the rest of the film is structured much the same. Just a heads up.

Eventually, we are brought up to the present day. Royal Tenenbaum has been living in a hotel room since he left his family. Disbarred from practicing law and being evicted from the home he has known all these years, he devises a scheme to get back into his family’s life. Through a series of circumstances, each of the now adult Tenenbaum children return to the family home. And the rest of the film is how these five characters react to each other and their surroundings.

Tenenbaums is the type of movie someone like myself would want to recommend everyone seeing, yet don’t really want to tell you why you should see it. It’s one of the few films I wish there was more of, not just the particular style of filmmaking but in length. I could have easily spent an extra couple hours with this family. Mr. Anderson and his cowriter Owen Wilson have created a wonderfully rich, completely fleshed out New York family in a fantasy New York that mixes the past with the present that is both logical and reasonable.

The Royal Tenenbaums is truly a film you do not want to miss.

Rating: A