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Top 100 Films #47 – The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)


royal_young#47. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
Directed by: Wes Anderson
Written by: Wes Anderson, Owen Wilson
Starring: Gene Hackman, Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Stiller, Danny Glover, Anjelica Huston, Bill Murray, Seymour Cassel

The Royal Tenenbaums is the film that launched Wes Anderson from indie darling to world-class filmmaker, and is the film I would consider to be the best of his filmography – even if I like a certain other film marginally more. Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums tackles the collective trials and tribulations of the titular Tenenbaum family –  Royal (Gene Hackman), the selfish patriarch of the family, Etheline (Anjelica Huston), his ex-wife, Chas (Ben Stiller), a financial prodigy who has recently become a widower, Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow), the adopted playwright, and Richie (Luke Wilson), a depressive former tennis tar.  The family comes together after Royal’s announcement of his alleged stomach cancer diagnosis – coming coincidentally right after his ex-wife Etheline is proposed to by a man named Henry Sherman (Danny Glover).  The magic of The Royal Tenenbaums comes in Wes Anderson’s ability to create a genuine family on-screen, comprised of some of the most underappreciated actors of the early 2000’s – every moment feels genuine, despite being full of Anderson’s usual cinematic flare.  Each character has a detailed and believable backstory, immediately making them endearing and relatable – their struggles and triumphs feel real and carefully structured.   The writer-director’s careful attention to detail has become famous since his debut, and The Royal Tenenbaums may be the best example of this.  Each frame is littered with an unending amount of decorative flare – it’s clear that Anderson is passionately about the production design of his films.  His obsessive eye for detail makes immersion second-nature – it’s easy to fall in love with his films just based on their visual and audio content.  The writing is at all times witty and loaded to the brim with quirk, but never coming off as disingenuous or annoying.  The performances from top to bottom are very good, with the strongest two being Gene Hackman as Royal, who is selfish and conniving but undoubtedly well-intentioned in the end, and Luke Wilson as Richie, whose manic depressive personality feels genuine and adds a great sense of poignancy to the film.  Wilson’s famous “Needle in the Hay” scene is the most powerful in the entire film, and a must see for anybody who hasn’t. The chemistry between the entire cast blends perfectly with Wes Anderson’s incredible world building, adding a layer of sincerity that many films could never dream of having.  The Royal Tenenbaums is one of the finest films of the 2000’s, and one of the best movies ever made about the family unit.  It’s intelligent, it’s funny, it’s touching, and it’s incredibly stylish and beautiful – what more could you want?


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