I didn’t really feel like seeing a movie Friday. Sometimes it gets like that. Anybody can get burnt out. Even as much as I like movies, after the kind of grueling, film flooded holiday season I seem to have found myself dog paddling in, the Hobbit was just a little tired. But the year was almost over, and there was only one film left to see, The Royal Tenenbaums. From the first moment I saw the trailer for Tenenbaums, I knew this was something I had to see. Already a fan of Anderson and Wilson, due in part to their previous effort, Rushmore; and in greater part because of a strange obsessive love of Owen Wilson himself, I knew that this was a must see. But unfortunately, someone thought it would be a great idea to start the Tenenbaums in limited release and so I waited. Years past, or days, I forget which. I was busy with Lord of the Rings, I probably lost track of time. But Tenenbaums inched it’s way closer to Dallas, and when at last on Friday it arrived, despite being fairly burnt out on movie-going, I dragged my lazy Hobbit self to the theater, braving Friday night crowds and throngs of ALI goers… hey wait, Lord of the Rings is the only film making any money, to trundle into one of the few theaters in town showing the latest Wilson/Anderson collaboration.
I think I can give you an idea of Tenenbaums' plot, but I’m certain I can’t really tell you what it’s about. I’m nearly convinced it’s subjective. While that may seem like a critiscm (and normally it would be), just let it pass for a moment. What I do know is that The Royal Tenenbaums stars Gene Hackman as Royal Tenenbaum, patriarch of the Tenenbaum family. A wealthy, reserved family of dysfunctional geniuses, now grown up and separated. When separated, Royal began residing in a hotel penthouse where he has now lived for over a decade. Etheline (Angelica Houston), stayed in the house where she raised their family after she convinced Royal to leave. The children went on to their own successful and disturbed lives. Now though, they are re-united, and back under one roof, like it or not.
Things pretty much snowball from there, but not in a dysfunctional way, nor in a Farrelly brothers have sex with the family dog way either. Instead, what Wes Anderson and his amazing cast deliver is pure, beautiful, madness. Not chaos, not insanity, but perfect madness. The Royal Tenenbaums isn’t exactly a comedy you see. Though I wouldn’t call it a drama either. What it is, is awkward, wild, and high-strung low-keyness. Yes, that makes sense not at all now doesn’t it? It’s perfect. Utterly perfect.
It starts with the narration by Alec Baldwin, whose voice soothes you through the film, even at moments when it would usually be most inappropriate for him to do so. The perfection continues to the high profile cast of characters, each of whom is so uniquely interesting that any normal sane filmmaker would have given a separate film to each and every damn one of them rather than throwing them all together in one movie and setting them at each other’s throats. It’s hard to praise this cast enough. Each and every one of them totally “gets” their role and so vividly brings to life all the unique and weird quirks of their characters it becomes almost hard to take wanting to see more of each one of them while at the same time wanting to see more of all the others as well.
You see, I said Tenenbaums isn’t a comedy, but it is funny. Not the type of funny where you sit and guffaw, belting out big laughs while knocking back a few cold ones with your buddy. Rather, Tenenbaums is the type of funny that catches you by surprise one Sunday afternoon while flipping channels between cooking shows only to stumble upon some momentary spot featuring a battle of wits between a gimpy financier and a and his cross-dressing secretary “Ed”. The type of funny that makes you choke on your own spit in between breathing and reaching for the rest of that half-eaten tub of popcorn while expecting a lull in between big movie moments.
Each instant flows together smoothly, even when jumping back and forth between young versions and older ones of the woe-begotten Tenenbaum children. Each character’s entrance is crafted with precision to intentionally seem haphazard. Before we get anywhere, or even meet the adult Tenenbaum children, we already know whom they are. When Stiller intro’s as Chas, we’re already in his head. Gwyneth may seem mysteriously disturbed when we’re introduced to Margot, but Anderson has already opened the door. Luke Wilson’s pops on as Richie, but we’re already rooting for him. Luke Wilson!! What the hell has he ever done that’s any good? It’s his time. It’s all there, touching, disturbing, funny, loveable, despicable, and beautiful.
Somehow, despite odd editing cuts and almost music video montages, you get connected to this film. Whether it’s through laughter or love, or simply a luscious love of utter madness, Tenenbaums works on every single level. Montages… holy crap, who throws musical montages into their films?? Who has the balls??? Who else could make it such a wonderful thing? We need more of Wes Anderson and we need a lot more of Owen Wilson. As for the Tenenbaums, I fear that not everyone will get it, some critics already sound confused. It’s different!! It’s bold!!! Some of these stogie old farts don’t know where to go with it… maybe you won’t either. But you’re only hurting yourself if you don’t give The Royal Tenenbaums a chance.
I went in burnt out and tired. I came out of Tenenbaums begging for more. Someone give me another ticket, I want back in.