*The Royal Tenenbaums (R)
It's always nice to see great young directors find commercial success. It means their films might actually make it here to Colorado Springs where the megaloid movie complexes tend not to set aside even one of their smallest theaters for less commercially viable indie and art flicks. And since we won't be finding our way out of "D" movie market status until the population hits a fearful million, every little bit helps.
Wes Anderson, thankfully, happens to be one of those directors -- the oddball brains behind the head-scratching hit Rushmore and his Sundance breakthrough Bottle Rocket. The Royal Tenenbaums, his latest film co-written with long-time friend and actor/collaborator Owen Wilson, is no less remarkable and perplexing -- especially as a commercial success.
If Wes Anderson has a peculiar talent, it is his ability to sneak stealthily back and forth across the Berlin Wall that divides comedy and drama while building plots on characters who just as deftly tread the line between caricature and humanity.
The Royal Tenenbaums tells the story of a dysfunctional New York dynasty a la Woody Allen with a brood of baby geniuses. Chas (Ben Stiller) is the business prodigy in an Adidas sweat suit who breeds Dalmatian mice and sues his father for shooting him with a BB gun. Richie (Luke Wilson) is a tennis phenom and failed painter in full Bjorn Borg regalia who's in love with Margot. Margot is the adopted sister and precocious playwright who has smoked secretly for 23 years. Anjelica Huston plays the doting mother and archaeologist Ethilene who nurses the talent of her burgeoning wunderkind. Royal (Gene Hackman) is the "asshole" father who leaves the family and squanders Chas's earnings living in a posh hotel. And Wes (Owen Wilson) is the children's neighbor, witness and future drug-addled author of critically panned best-selling novels in "obsolete vernaculars."
As adults, all of the kids' genius is completely overridden by their emotional retardation. Every one of the Tenenbaums is stuck in the past, a point driven home by the absolute lack of set or costume change as they get older. It would be impossible to further elaborate the plot without retelling the movie, though it is worth saying that it's a well-disguised redemption movie that takes a long, darkly comic look at the meanings of success in our society.
The most notable departure from Anderson's previous efforts is the added script-writing talent of actor Owen Wilson. Though it's impossible to say who's responsible for which lines, I can't help but think that Wilson penned such gems as: "I'm sorry for your loss -- your mother was a terribly attractive woman," "Do you wanna play some word games or do some experiments on me?" and "I used to be a homeowner myself until my son ex-appropriated it from me."
Like the Coen brothers before them, Wilson and Anderson seem to have happened upon the elusive alchemy of collaboration. Thumbs up, five stars, A+, or whatever. Go see it!
-- Noel Black