The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) (R)

"The Royal Tenenbaums" is Wes Anderson at his most adult, his most mature, his most emotional, and his most frustratingly Wes Anderson. If a stumbling block is to be seen in the director's career for the average viewer, this is it. Almost Chaplin in the way it sees tragedy and comedy as a breath away from each other, "The Royal Tenenbaums" is the story of a family, a curiously odd family.
Assembling one of his legendary casts, it would be very easy to think that Wes Anderson must have had issues with both his mother and his father. The closest related film to this one in Anderson's own oeuvre is "The Darjeerling Limited". The tragedy, the odd relationship between siblings, and paternal/maternal issues are present in both films.
Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman) and Etheline Tenenbaum (Anjelica Houston) have three children: Chas (Ben Stiller), Richie (Luke Wilson), and their adopted daughter Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow). After a few cheating spells, Gene and his wife become estranged and remain this way for twenty two years.
After his children have all grown up and become increasingly more bizarre with each year, Royal realizes that there may be something missing from his life. Proclaiming that he has a terminal disease, Royal tries to reunite with the family; but most of them don't want anything to do with him because of his absence.
Margot stands as the oddest of the children. She was a playwright in her early years, but slipped into apathy and has married a psychologist named Raleigh St. Clair (Bill Murray). Raleigh is focusing on one child who has peculiar attributes...Margot and his relationship seems volatile at best. Margot spends most of her afternoons locked up in the bathroom, smoking, painting her nails, taking a bath, or watching TV.
Chas is the most high-strung of the kids and the one who is most impacted by Royal's leaving. He always wears a red tracksuit and is the most lucrative of the three children. Starting his own business when he was only eleven or twelve, Chas quickly took the reigns of the family revenue over. His wife died after a short few years of marriage, leaving Chas with two boys—Ari and Uzie—to take care of himself.
Richie was the most average of the three, but still excelled in certain areas. He and Margot were the closest siblings, just as he and Royal were the closest. Richie is giving of himself, and rarely selfish. He was a tennis superstar, but on his last game, had a nervous breakdown. Contenting himself to travel the world on a boat, Richie hasn't seen his family in a few months.
Eli Cash (Owen Wilson) was a childhood friend of Richie's and always hung around the Tenenbaum house. He is now a successful writer of pulp novels and he is having an affair with Margot. For being so apathetic and so uninvolved, Margot finds herself at the center of most of the inner conflicts of the Tenenbaum house.
As Royal returns to the house, sick and dying, the Tenenbaums reassemble with the most caustic of results. The movie has the opportunity for the most outrageous of comical moments and some part of the film are funny; but this is Wes Anderson being very serious. This is a family drama about a dysfunctional unit above anything else. While colorful and vivid, the movie is quite dark and the moments of sheer drama sneak up on you.
Through its curiosities and its quasi-unnecessary soundtrack, "The Royal Tenenbaums" is remarkably genuine. It's filled with star-performances, the most notable being Anjelica Houston and Luke Wilson.
Wes Anderson's darkest hour is still very optimistic and it leaves us with a warm feeling in our hearts, even if we don't know why.
Even by his own standards, this Wes Anderson work is not for the easily bored or the faint of heart. For those who care to see it, "The Royal Tenenbaums" is a Wes Anderson masterpiece.

Score: ★★★★

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