The Royal Tenenbaums Review
By Joe Lozito
There may be a danger in labeling directors with adjectives such as quirky, offbeat or satirical after only a handful of movies. Director Wes Anderson, working with writing partner Owen Wilson, pushes every epithet ever heaped on him with the film "The Royal Tenenbaums". The film follows patriarch Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman, wonderful yet again) as he attempts to reconcile with his estranged family the only way he knows how (through deceit and trickery). The opening Act of "Royal" which introduces the colorful array of characters keeps the eccentricity coming to the strains of an obligatorily great soundtrack. But Mr. Wilson and Mr. Anderson pile the whimsy so high that the film eventually loses its grounding. What follows for the remainder of the film feels like a downward slope. It seems as though the writers would like to generate some genuine emotion and perhaps even send a message or two, but the film that they create does not exist in a reality that makes that possible.
Still, "Tenenbaums" has its share of fun moments and it is uniformly well acted. There are moments of genuine emotion - particularly a love story between Tenenbaum matriarch Angelica Huston and suitor Danny Glover and the relationship between son Chas (Ben Stiller) and his father - and of course a great deal of quirky, offbeat, satirical humor. Real-life quirky siblings Owen and Luke Wilson are on hand as rivals for the affection of Tenenbaum daughter (adopted) Gwyneth Paltrow and "Rushmore" alum Bill Murray mugs his way through the role of Ms. Paltrow's neurosurgeon husband.
The film really belongs to Mr. Hackman who is having an amazing few years. Film after film he proves himself to be an actor who can take even the shallowest role (see "Behind Enemy Lines", or don't) and breathe it full of life with ease. His technique is nearly impossible to detect, but I'm pretty sure it has something to do with that contagious snicker of his. As Royal Tenenbaum himself, Mr. Hackman treats the audience as his children and he makes us want to see him reunite with his family - or at least try for two hours.
Mr. Anderson's previous film (also written with Mr. Wilson) was 1998's "Rushmore" which was a more well-grounded and playful take on prep school loyalties. The film was of a smaller scale which seemingly allowed the writers to become more intimate with each character and follow plot points through to their conclusions. "Tenenbaums" unfolds randomly; each scene feels more like a tale told at a family reunion. But Mr. Anderson and Mr. Wilson are gifted artists, and I look forward to seeing them produce something that strives for more than just sustaining their own hype.