ninth symphony films - movie reviews


DIRECTOR  -  wes anderson

RATED  -  r

GENRE  -  comedy

LENGTH  -  109 minutes

RELEASED  -  14 december 2001

DISTRIBUTOR  -  touchstone pictures

OFFICIAL SITE  -  royal tenenbaums

ESTIMATED BUDGET  -  $21,000,000
the royal tenenbaums - a shot from the film


buy the dvd from the royal tenenbaums at

buy the dvd from the royal tenenbaums at

an estranged family of former child prodigies reunites when one of their members announces he has a terminal illness.

the opening of the movie with narration and character introduction was influenced by the magnificent ambersons.


picture from the royal tenenbaums

picture from the royal tenenbaums

picture from the royal tenenbaums


four out of four possible stars

To say that this film was cast well would be an understatement. And to say that dark comedy cannot be just as refreshing and oddly inspirational as a straight story, would be a mistake. The Royal Tenenbaums is a success on both levels, with superb acting and a solid handle on the genre. Wes Anderson's last film, Rushmore had the same dark but funny tone as his latest film.

In Tenenbaums, he recreates a place which resembles the real world, but seems somewhat removed from our own planet. It's like parallel universe or a New York City that exists only on the screen. A series of small elements create this change. The clothing and hairstyles of the characters, the set decorations and locations used for the scenes are almost surreal. They don't seem to belong in 2001. And although the film takes place in 2001, the look and feel of the film resembles something from the 1960's. Just take Gwyneth Paltrow's board straight hair and heavy eyeliner. And the multitude of tweed suits worn by Gene Hackman.

The amount of tweed in this film is nothing short of remarkable. This style echoes the costumes used in Rushmore, but I think that it's pulled off better in this film. In fact, I think the whole effect is pulled off with more success in Tenenbaums. It's like Anderson is trying to create a series of films that appear to take place in our world, yet have a lot of differences, making them a little bit strange. But Anderson is progressing in his abilities. Although he got a degree in something like philosophy, he's begun to create a set of films that are almost fly in the face of conventional filmmaking.

They're darker and more satirical than standard Hollywood fare, and yet they are just as funny, if not funnier, than most attempts in the comedy genre. Though I think it must be said that The Royal Tenenbaums is a more successful film in this genre than was Rushmore. It might be that Anderson is just becoming better at filmmaking, this being his third foray into the feature film business. Whatever the case, Tenenbaums will probably appeal to a larger audience. It's like Andersen is improving on his ability to create this odd world, and its believablity has been increased.

And this is an important part, given that some of the situations in this film are more than a little bit unrealistic. What makes the chararcters and these scenes believable though is that the emotions and connections between them are basic human emotions that are present in every genre of cinema and, more importantly, in real life. Anderson's characters may wear clothes that resemble those of the 1960's and they might live in houses whose furniture would look more at home in a Frank Sinatra film, but their problems are familiar ones that make them more human than odd.

And the characters in this film have lots of problems. Drugs, adultery, terminal illnesses. This film has it all. And the actors really pull the whole thing off. It's hard to imagine Gene Hackman or Anjelica Huston ever giving a bad performance, so i'm sure that the casting director in this film new what kind of talent he (or she!) was getting after these two actors were hired. As a man and wife who are estranged in the film, their performances are comedic, yet also touching. There's a good balance of these two emotions in the film and Hackman and huston are just fabulous.

That's a grandious word, but I think it fits the situation. And really, that sentiment can be applied to most of the cast. Though I think that Owen Wilson and Wes Anderson had a large role in allowing these characters to become the unique and very funny people in the film. In writing the script, these two men created an uncommon film from a somewhat common story. The whole idea of a man who's been seen as the downfall of his own family for the past thirty years, learning to understand the true value of that family is basic enough. And the family reunion element of the movie is also something that's been tried in films before.

But it's the odd humor present in so much of the film that really creates some situations which deserve a few out-loud laughs. And I'll admit that there were a few times in the movie where I had to stop myself from laughing in order to hear the next bit of dialogue. The combination of good writing and good acting is a boon for this film. In fact, the humor is so smart, that the serious overtones and the message of the film is made to be much more potent. Though, as a last note, I cannot be so complimentary to everyone in the cast. I am somewhat unsatisfied with Ben Stiller's performance.

I think this is because he hasn't learned to look "outside" of himself when creating his characters. He always plays a version of ben stiller and his lines are continuously presented with the same tone, cadence, and feeling. I will allow that turning one's self into a completely different person for the purposes of a film is not something that can be done lightly, but I feel that stiller has had enough time to widen his abilities somewhat to create more convincing characters. In Tenenbaums, Stiller has some of the most emotional stuff to work with, chararcter-wise, and he's not always that credible in his role.

But that said, I'll repeat my observation that this film contains a super script that allows these actors to really shine up on the screen. When given mediocre material, good actors can sometimes pull off decent performances. And when given exceptional material, those same actors can accomplish so much more. With The Royal Tenenbaums, the filmmakers have been fortunate enough to grab a cast full of more than credible actors and place them with a script that is worthy of their talents.

Tenenbaums is a funny trip into a new york that could be and is a film whose humor is accessible by more than just die-hard fans of satire. Which can sometimes be a genre that's not always funny. Dark humor is hard to get right (just take Cable Guy from a few years ago ...), but Wes Anderson has created a smart film, a rarity in Hollywood. Especially since this is a Touchstone picture. Who knew that Disney would bankrole such a unique film?

Review by Kelsey Wyatt.

content 2000 - - ninth symphony films - photographs touchstone pictures 2001
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