The Royal Tenenbaums

In the Wes Anderson interview in The Royal Tenenbaums, the director talked about how he storyboards the movie down to the last minute detail of decor, but he’s always surprised by the way that actors bring the story to life. That comment explains the affect of the Royal Tenenbaums. I’d want to watch it again to catch the the fabulous dollhouse details of the 1970s/80s Chas Adams house, with a family of eccentric ex-prodigies gone to seed. And to catch the subtleties as Gene Hackman plays an aging scoundrel trying to worm his way back into the affections of his alienated family. I just love how he’s habitually manipulative, nasty, and mean; and how he fumbles awkwardly with a new resolution to occasionally tell the truth.
But the map and the territory don’t quite mesh. The characters inhabiting the eccentric character definitions — Gwyneth Paltrow’s repressed and secretive failed playwright; Luke Wilson’s despairing washed-up tennis pro enact the border between anomie and caricature.
Reviews of the movie make a lot of the superficial eccentricity of the set and the mannerisms of the characters. Each character has his or her own shtick; the playwright has a wooden finger; the envious next-door-neighbor pop-western novelist wears fashion cowboy gear and wanders in a chemically-fueled dreamworld.
But the heart of the movie is simpler, more mundane, and more sentimental. Children, raised by a remote mother and absent father, create their own fantasy worlds, and then have to live in them. They confront each other as adults, and struggle with reconciliation and forgiveness. At heart, it’s about the imaginary worlds built in the carpeted dens of the lonely children of divorced parents. At heart, it’s a therapist’s office fable.

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