It’s a daily struggle to decide which Wes Anderson film is my favorite – Rushmore or The Royal Tenenbaums. I’m a massive fan of Anderson’s cinematic dollhouse aesthetic, and even if I prefer the early years to the more recent pictures, each film he’s made has been lovingly crafted and filled with a particular brand of imaginative, melancholic whimsy that feels distinctly him. The Fantastic Mr. Fox is a beguiling creation and a total laugh riot, while The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou remains one of the most all-around enjoyable films I can think of (I’m due a revisit…) But the maturity on display is what strikes me when I revisit The Royal Tenenbaums, and I get such a kick of how it feels like Anderson riffing on Orson Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons (such a superb, grossly undervalued motion picture).
The film hit that sweet spot with all of the members of its starry cast because each role was tailor made to their specific qualities as performers, a trait that marks each and every movie that Anderson has made. Gene Hackman, to my knowledge, was never this loose or funny in a movie (with the possible exception of Superman IV: The Quest for Peace), and the crusty old man of the house that he portrays was totally in line with his apparently no-bullshit philosophy on life. Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Luke Wilson, Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelica Houston, Danny Glover, Seymour Cassel and Kumar Pallana – each and every one of them were given numerous moments to shine, earning our respect, our laughs, and our tears. Alec Baldwin’s tickle-your-ribs narration seals the deal.
Robert Yeoman’s colorful and precise cinematography nailed Anderson’s uncanny sense of mise-en-scene, while the musical score by Mark Mothersbaugh was nothing short of marvelous. This film hits some very intense peaks and valleys from a narrative standpoint, looking at familial dysfunction and deep-rooted darkness with a dryly hilarious sense of humor, and I can’t help but notice something new each time I watch it. It’s also got some EXCELLENT Mescaline humor. Coming after the quirkfest of Bottle Rocket and the more polished but no less eccentric Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums still stands as Anderson’s finest work overall, his most complete, and the film that well and truly announced a very particular cinematic worldview from a truly sly and exuberant voice.