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The Royal Tenenbaums (rewatch)

Posted by martinteller on August 17, 2012

I’ve made a mistake.  Earlier today, I posted my Top 101-250, knowing full well that I had this movie ready to watch on Blu-Ray.  I was already lamenting the fact that there were no films by Wes Anderson — who I consider one of my favorite contemporary directors — on the top 100 list.  But instead of waiting until I had revisited Tenenbaums, I stuck it on the also-rans list.  I’ve now corrected that error, moving it up to the 100, and sadly knocking off Nightmare Alley (which brings up another thing I’ve been struggling with in all this listmaking, the relative dearth of noir, but let’s not go there in this post).

In my previous review, I made a few complaints, but I realize now they weren’t mine.  I was hedging my bets against the Anderson naysayers, trying to “acknowledge” the usual quibbles about his work from those who don’t dig it.  One of the things I said was “unemotional”… which just isn’t true.  Yes, there is a noticeable lack of emotional outbursts in the film, but that makes the subdued moments all that much more powerful.  “I’ve had a rough year, dad” / “I know you have, Chassie” is one of the most quietly devastating and cathartic exchanges I can think of.  These are characters trapped in nostalgic melancholy, unable or unwilling to get past their pain, longing, and profound disappointment.  When growth occurs, it comes in small but intensely moving gestures.

The performances are spot-on, throughout the entire cast.  I feel tremendous affection for every single character.  Part of that is because Anderson by this point has established a universe of actors (the Wilson brothers, Murray, Cassel, Pallana) whose presence evokes the comfort of entering a familiar world.  But also every performer seems to fully understand the tone of the film, and has the ability to nail that restrained sense of humor.  I’m reminded again of how much I enjoy Hackman and Huston, and should seek out some of their films I haven’t seen yet (and also revisit To Sleep With Anger, featuring another fine Danny Glover performance).

And of course, the details are so magnificent.  Such specificity in the set design and art direction, those wonderful little touches like the attention to typefaces (so much Futura!) and cigarette brand loyalty and Dalmatian mice.  There’s something magical about a closet full of board games, isn’t there?  Anderson gets it.  And the soundtrack might be the very best there is… or at least my personal favorite.  It’s like he raided my record collection.  Velvet Underground, Nico, Nick Drake, Rolling Stones, The Ramones, The Clash, Erik Satie, Vince Guaraldi, and that beautiful final procession to Van Morrison.

It’s a film that gets to me in just about every way, it’s funny and fascinating and gorgeous and moving, and the dialogue is damn good, too.  Frankly, I don’t know why it wasn’t on the short list to begin with (and a case could be made for Rushmore, Fantastic Mr. Fox and Moonrise Kingdom, too… maybe next year).  But if anyone was wondering what would appear on my top 100, now you know one of them.  Rating: Masterpiece (96)


2 Responses to “The Royal Tenenbaums (rewatch)”

  1. Andrew K. said

    Possibly random, but I love this line in your review ” I was hedging my bets against the Anderson naysayers, trying to “acknowledge” the usual quibbles about his work from those who don’t dig it.” Sometimes it becomes so difficult to write on some films when everyone has an opinion on them which becomes difficult to ignore.

    The attention to detail you mention is one of the finest things about the film. Bathed in whimsy, but never artificially so. Also, EXCELLENT performances (the best I’ve seen from Stiller, one of my best from Hackman – definitely my best post 80s of his) but it’s Paltrow and Huston who’re so good that I remember first.

    • Thanks a lot! Yes, the more opinion that exists out there about a certain film, the more difficult it becomes to write about!

      I really should make an effort to seek out more Anjelica Huston. She’s so great in this, THE GRIFTERS and THE DEAD.

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