The most popular picture of Wes Anderson’s filmography (according to the number of IMDB votes), The Royal Tenenbaums is a refreshingly original look at an American family. Every family has its issues and within twenty minutes of meeting the Tenenbaums, it is painfully obvious that their problems will not be solved easily (if at all). The people that Anderson uses to decorate his third film are vivid characters and not necessarily ones that we would want to be related to. The Tenenbaums seem to feel the same way. Anderson’s ensemble cast does extraordinary work here. Individually, each actor and actress brings their characters to life and when they all are considered together, the audience gets an overwhelming feeling that they feel trapped under their family name.
The Royal Tenenbaums is not a comedy, but a dramedy. Anderson’s trademark sense of humor is used only to relieve the audience. With the comedy in the background, this often becomes a dark film. Themes of death, loneliness, and addiction could have made this a more depressing movie; perhaps it would have been had anyone else directed it. Yet the more Wes Anderson films I see, the more I become convinced that he is a master of the dramedy. This movie seems more serious than most of his other pictures, but death and loneliness are not unfamiliar territory for his stories and he is never afraid to use these themes to bring out touching moments in the story.
Anderson’s quirky, tight-knit visual style is at large during these two hours. Many shots are framed straight-and-center (a common style in Anderson’s work) and the interiors of the Tenenbaum House seem meticulously detailed. The character’s costumes are even fascinating: Chas’ red Adidas jump suit, Richie’s beard-hair-headband-sunglasses combo, Margot’s eyeliner and fur coat, and Eli’s signature cowboy outfit define the quirkiness of the movie. As usual, there is also a memorable soundtrack, in addition to a masterful use of “Hey Jude” in the opening scenes.
All this adds up to a worth-while movie. It is a movie of color and quirk, but also one of flawed relationships between flawed people that has several very touching, human moments to offer. After just seeing it for the first time, The Royal Tenenbaums stirred my admiration for the things that the director and his team of stylists, co-writers, and actors do best. This is, without a doubt, one of the definitive Anderson films.