There are many reasons why The Royal Tenenbaums is number one on my list of favorites by Wes Anderson as well as near the top on my favorite movies of all time. We’ll dive in after you take a chance to reintroduce yourself to one of the greatest movies i’ve ever seen.
The number one reason for this being one of my favorite movies is the music. This Anderson film again employs the genius that is Mark Mothersbaugh. While the official soundtrack release for the film only offers 8 of Mothersbaugh’s melodies, they chose the right ones to include. From the opening credit theme “111 Archer Avenue” to the playful “Sparkplug Minuet” the entire soundtrack lifts you up while preparing you for the fall and then lifting you right back up again at the end. Aside from Tenenbaums being in my top movies, the soundtrack is also very near the top of my favorite albums of all time as well. It’s one of those films that utilizes the music in such a way that whenever you listen to the soundtrack you can replay parts of the movie in your head while listening.
Most notable to this point is the song “Needle in the Hay” by Elliot Smith. This song is so dark and unbelievably beautiful it’s hard not to get sucked into it completely. You’ll recognize the song from the movie because it’s the song that is playing when Richie (Luke Wilson) attempts suicide by shaving off his beard and hair and then slicing open his wrists. Every time I hear this song, I picture Richie as he slides down the wall, blood running profusely down both arms a terrible pain in his face, not from his wrists but from the loss of the love of his life.
And enough of the dark talk. The best song in this movie, in my humble opinion, is the Mutato Muzika Orchestra’s rendition of the Beatle’s “Hey Jude”. Their rendition is a glorious five and a half minutes of pure bliss. The first four being an orchestrated instrumental which continues to build and build until the iconic end of “Na, na na nanana na, nanana na Hey Jude”. This is the song that plays in the prologue of the film. The Introduction of Players would be more accurate I should say. The reason I love this so much is the way the song builds and builds throughout our introductions to the characters as we are introduced to them by our Narrator, one Mr. Alec Baldwin. The last minute and a half roar after little Richie Tenenbaum releases his pet hawk Mordecai from their roof.
Number two is the cast. You couldn’t have hoped for a better cast when you start watching this movie. Headlining the ensemble is the great Gene Hackman in the role of Royal Tenenbaum, his wife Etheline played by Anjelica Huston and the three Tenenbaum children; Richie (Luke Wilson), Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow), and Chas (Ben Stiller). The rest of the cast is made up of Anderson classics, Owen Wilson as Eli Cash, Bill Murray as Raleigh St. Clair and a newcomer to the Anderson world Danny Glover as Henry Sherman.
The way the characters act together on screen translates to an amazing time on set. Everyone seems to be enjoying themselves and have all embraced their roles whole heartedly. You rarely get a cast that can bring their characters to life with such vigor.
Number three is the presentation of the book within a movie concept. The opening of The Royal Tenenbaums is the presentation of a book, The Royal Tenenbaums, that is shown to us, then opened and the library card removed, stamped and reinserted. Thus we, the viewers, have just checked out a copy of the book from our local library and are now going to sit down and read it. The narrative plays out like you’re reading a book and even as new chapters are introduced we have screenshots stating “Chapter 1”, “Chapter 3”, etc. Even the narration done by Alec reads as though it’s the narration of a book.
This film always made me wonder if there was ever a real book The Royal Tenenbaums and if I were to get ahold of it, would it be just like watching the movie? Or would they be separate entities tied together through the magic of film and the proverbial fourth wall.
Number four is the writing and directing. Anderson is on his A-Game with The Royal Tenenbaums from screenplay to finished film, everything is wonderful about this movie. I’ve spent many nights since last watching this flick, trying to break it down, trying to find the weak points. I’m unable to and I hope I never do find the weak points because I enjoy this movie and I hope you do too.
MOVIE QUIZ: Mark Mothersbaugh was a member of what 80s band?