If you are a child prodigy, the only way is down. Intense pressure and the expectation to succeed can lead people to breaking point. Wes continues his infatuation with imperfection which draws me close again. Anderson’s knack for making you care is a gift; characters so flawed yet so likable. Break through the twee aesthetics of The Royal Tenenbaums and you find darkness and loneliness.
The film is structured like a book, complete with prologue and gifted narrator Alec Baldwin. If you had to select one person to read you a book, it would be Stephen Fry. If I had to select one person to narrate a film, it would be Alec Baldwin. His soothing tones give the film a steady pace, and he is always on call to interject with some humorous trivial detail.
As the Tenenbaum children grow up, problems and issues unfold, which turns them full-circle back to the family home. Chas (Ben Stiller) is ultra-safety conscious and worries about his flat’s evacuation procedure. Richie (Owen Wilson), the favourite child, was expected to have a promising tennis career, but after a huge breakdown on court, he leaves to go travelling. Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow), the “adopted daughter”, is a talented playwright but has found herself stuck in a rut whilst married to Raleigh St. Clair (Bill Murray). All the children subconsciously want to return home but it takes a big family event to prompt this. Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman) is divorced and hasn’t talked to his children in years, therefore he concocts a plan to bring them back together. He pretends he’s dying from cancer and forces his way back into the Tenenbaum residence. The road to reconciliation is a bumpy one and nothing runs smoothly. However, some differences are overcome and true feelings are revealed.
Royal Tenenbaum is the centre point of the film, although there are many different intriguing strands which branch from this mischievous father. The secret love affair between Margot and Richie is conflicted and nuanced; Chas’ relationship with his boys is witty but poignant; and Henry Sherman (Danny Glover) chasing Etheline Tenenbaum (Anjelica Huston) is a nice side. Anderson also likes to create inconspicuous periphery characters who add a few gags to the mix. I am going to go on record now to say Pagoda (the Tenenbaum’s butler) is my favourite character in all of Anderson’s film. The scene when he stabs Royal Tenenbaum is better than anything Anchorman could muster. What makes this film though is Gene Hackman’s character and performance. Hackman is hilarious throughout and I love the dynamic between Royal and his grandsons (Chas’ sons).
The Royal Tenenbaums has more laughs than The Darjeeling Limited and it probably has more emotional depth. The story is more intricate and detailed, and the cast is gargantuan. Despite all of this, it can’t beat the charm of Darjeeling. The Royal Tenenbaums ticks all the boxes and deserves a bloody good mark, but for me, I still side with The Darjeeling Limited.