Saturday, November 25, 2017

Film review by Gianfranco Cacciola

The Royal Tenenbaums

Genre: comedy-drama
Director: Wes Anderson
Starring: Gene Hackman, Anjelica Houston, Ben Stiller, Gwyneth Paltrow, Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, Bill Murray, Danny Glover and Alec Baldwin as voice-over.
Year: 2001

The Royal Tenenbaums is a film that portrays the growth, the problems

and the difficulties of understanding each other of an American family. The movie opens with the introduction of the members of the Tenenbaum family: the three children Chas, Margot and Richie, with their unusual talents (they are a financial genius, a prodigy in the art of writing plays and a tennis champion respectively), and the parents, Etheline and Royal, probably too focused on their lives. The whole family, with the only exception of Richie, do not get along well with the father: he is a cheating husband for Etheline, an uncaring father for Chas, who seems not to be living a real childhood, and  an unsentimental parent for Margot, which is always reminded to have been adopted. This whole situation will lead to the interruption of the relationship of the entire family with Royal, although, as far as regards the legal aspect, he won’t divorce Etheline.

22 year later, two decades of failing had covered the early success of the Tenenbaum children. In the meanwhile, Royal has run out of money and, at the same time, has discovered that Etheline is probably going to marry another man, Henry, former accountant of the family: in order to solve both of these problems, Royal decides to pretend to be terminally ill to get close to his family. 

Obviously, it isn’t easy: the entire family really looks like a sinking ship. Chas, after losing his wife in an accident, has become an overprotective father. Margot is living an unhappy life, married to a man she doesn’t really love. Richie, that has always been secretly in love with Margot, suffered and keeps suffering because of this aimless love. Even Etheline, despite everything, proves not to understand her family: for example, she hasn’t ever acknowledged the crippling, clear depression of Margot. However, the return of Royal, probably the cause of all the troubles, will resolve them too: through his help, his adult children, together with his spouse will start acknowledging their problems: Richie and Margot will learn how and who love,  Chas will accept the loss of his wife and Etheline will be legally free to marry his new love. At the same time, Royal will save himself, becoming a man who really understands what is worth loving. In this sense, the epitaph of his grave will figuratively describe his life: “Died tragically rescuing his family from the wreckage of a destroyed sinking battleship”.

As almost every Anderson movie, The Royal Tenenbaums is focused on father-son relationships: in this case, it is underlined the necessity of a family and the lack of growth in children not loved (or not loved enough): a perfect example is represented by the clothes used by the protagonists during their lives: basically, they do not change. The only one who changes dressing style is Chas, who, on the contrary, wore suits in his childhood and jumpsuits in his adulthood, remarking maybe an inevitable regression. Moreover, although mature, Chas, Richie and Margot keep on acting childishly while relating with their parents.

Besides, what is important is Wes Anderson’s way of directing: basically, he totally reverses the concept of film-making: instead of trying to involve the viewer in the film, making him forget he is properly watching fiction, Wes Anderson wants the audience to be conscious of the fact that what is running is a film. One of his tool to recreate the effect is the one of the frame: every Anderson’s story isn’t portrayed in media res: usually it is told by a character who’s not part of it or it is narrated as if the voice-over was reading a book. In this particular case, the voice over is truly reading a book: the director doesn’t allow us to understand who’s the author, but the story of the Tenenbaums is written as a novel. In addition, every chapter is preceded by the visual images of a chapter of the book, therefore it is impossible for the audience to forget to be watching a movie. 

The impression of fiction is given by the movement of the camera and the composition of the elements in the scene too: sometimes it really looks like the audience is watching a picture instead of a movie, where the characters instead of being portrayed, are drawn. In this case, it is essential the usage of color: every scene is composed by at least 4-5 dominant colors which help the idea of reading a novel. 

Furthermore, all these aspects lead to one of the major features of the film: this is a tragedy, but everything is shown to be amusing, as if there was a kind of barrier between the audience and the characters. The perfect example, in this case, is the scene of Richie’s attempted suicide: honestly, it is almost impossible to portray a more intense scene than this, where every aspect, from the soundtrack to the astounding performance of Luke Wilson, lead to move intensively the audience, but, still, the director manages to give an ironic (and strangely appropriate) shade to the subsequent scene.

In conclusion, this is Wes Anderson’s art, probably the outsider of nowadays cinema.

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