Wes Anderson, the celebrated 31-year-old director of cult favorites Bottle Rocket and Rushmore, has outdone himself with The Royal Tenenbaums. This is not only Anderson's best movie, but easily the best American comedy of the year 2001.
Everything about the film is completely right, whether it is the performances, the direction, the cinematography or the costumes and production design. It's the comic equivalent to an elaborate costume drama - no detail is spared in establishing the mood of the film and depth of the characters- both of which are absolutely note perfect.
Tenenbaums is the story of the titular family - its three children (played by Ben Stiller, Gwyneth Paltrow and Luke Wilson) were all young prodigies who regressed in their adult lives after they were deserted by their cad-like father, Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman). An opening narration by Alec Baldwin highlights the family's history, throwing in hilarious little touches along the way - it's as though Anderson is cramming as much bizarre and quirky humour into each frame as possible - and astonishingly enough, it all works.
Royal decides late in life that he'd like to reunite with his family, and therefore moves in with the children and ex-wife- even though she's about to remarry, to her longtime accountant (Danny Glover). As in the previous two Anderson features, "Tenenbaums" introduces touching drama in its third act, yet manages to do so without sacrificing the comic momentum.
In a film rich in original, fascinating and hilarious characters, the best is undoubtedly Margot, the playwright daughter, played by Gwyneth Paltrow. An untypical role for her, it may be her best performance yet.
Also straying from their normal screen personae are Stiller, excellent as the hostile and grief-stricken father of two young boys who look and dress just like him, and Luke Wilson, who may finally get the attention he deserves for his role as Richie, the disgraced former tennis pro. Hackman also shines while running the emotional gamut.
The highest praise must go to the director: this is Wes Anderson's film through-and-through. Anderson builds on the distinctive and highly entertaining visual style he displayed in his first two films, blending just the right amount of dry dialogue, physical comedy, and social commentary, while including some of his trademark visual quirks, such as a heavy reliance on comical on-screen titles. And like the first two films, "Tenenbaums" was co-written with Owen Wilson, Anderson's longtime friend who has since hit it big as an actor in the States and has a small but memorable role as a cowboy novelist who romances Paltrow behind the back of her husband (Bill Murray).
At a time when screen comedy is plunging new depths, this intelligent, touching, and uproariously funny picture restores one's faith in Hollywood. It cannot possibly be recommended enough.