The Royal Tennenbaums (2001)

Film Review

October 2019

The Royal Tenenbaums

Or the prettiest film about mental illness. The Royal Tenenbaums boasts such detail it can make your head spin. Throwaway references, minuscule character moments, frame after frame bursting with ridiculous paraphernalia. From Murray to Paltrow to Wilson (x2), the cast is just as overwhelming. There’s so much to digest, it’s a surprise a coherent story gets told. No doubt it all serves as a distraction from the film’s dark emotional core. That might be the point. Everyone is messed up and everyone is distracted—doing anything but acknowledge it. In this edible fantasy world, as with all Wes Anderson’s work, there is something profoundly close to home.

“I never understood any of us,” admits the patriarch at the centre of the chaos, Royal Tenenbaum (a pitch perfect Gene Hackman). This little epiphany, late in life, sums up just about any dysfunctional family. Learning to admit and embrace dysfunction is the collective hero’s journey for the Tenenbaums (& co). Pulled out of hiding from each other to reunite under one roof, they all experience a cathartic regression. They’re forced to relive their roles, face their traumas and, awkwardly and hilariously, evolve. Anderson treats his characters with the same obsessive care as the set design. There’s so much emotional tension beneath the colours, turtlenecks and coldly formal dialogue that a simple confession towards the end—“I’ve had a rough year, dad”—punches you square in the heart.