Flashback Movies: Looking Back at The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

We all have questionable taste when we're in high school. It's part of being a teenager; we don't dress great, and we're still in the process of figuring out exactly who we are. It's part of growing up, but that also means that our taste changes and evolves as we get older. For this writer, it also meant that I went from watching movies solely for fun to looking at them with a critical eye. Now that I'm an adult and have been reviewing films professionally for almost eight years, I thought about what it would be like to go back and rewatch my favorite movies from when I was a teenager and see how my opinion of them has changed. That is the concept of Flashback Movies; I take one of my favorite movies from roughly ages fifteen to eighteen and rewatch them, sometimes for the first time in over a decade, and see if I view them any differently. For the first entry in this list, we're going to look at the movie that kicked off one of my biggest director obsessions with Wes Anderson that goes on to this day; The Royal Tenenbaums.

Flashback Movies: Looking Back at The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
L-R: The logo for Flashback Movies and the official poster for The Royal Tenenbaums.

The thing that stuck out when I saw The Royal Tenenbaums in the early 2000s was just how dark the humor was. That wasn't something I had ever really explored when it came to my movie watching, and even watching it now, the dark humor remains. There are lines where you have to laugh at how absurd it all is and how much humor you have to find in someone being in love with their adopted sister to the point of suicidal depression. The dark humor was apparent to the severely depressed teenager I was and remains evident, and maybe even more, to the still depressed adult, I am now. The soundtrack and score by Mark Mothersbaugh, one that was played over and over again half a lifetime ago, is still fantastic. The dialogue along with the deadpan deliver resonated with someone who had a very dry, very deadpan, very dark sense of humor back then, and it still resonates now.

However, now the cinematography is something that cannot be denied. Robert D. Yeoman has worked on many of Anderson's movies, and he always makes them pop. This one is no different, but while the colors pop, the city is the most interesting part. The little details in the background that you fail to notice when you first watch a movie such as how empty the streets are; this takes place in a city, yet there are virtually no people and no cars at any given time. The most people we see on screen is during the wedding at the end of the movie, and even then, it's one shot. It draws the focus inward, so we know that we're only focused on the Tenenbaums as a family, but it also very much reads as if they are inwardly focused as well. This is an upper-class family who doesn't really see beyond their own problems. It's a reading you don't notice as a teenager when you're distracted by the dark humor and killer soundtrack.

That is not to say that this is a movie without problems. The biggest continues to be Anderson's interesting approach to depicting minorities. While Henry Sherman (Danny Glover) walks out of the film, avoiding any issues with race, the same cannot be said about Pagoda (Kumar Pallana). His accent isn't quite played for laughs, but it comes pretty close, and he does appear to be some sort of indentured servant, which is problematic, to say the least. Anderson has a history of failing to mesh the twee and brightly colored world with well-depicted minority characters. While Pagoda is ultimately problematic, he is not a dealbreaker for this writer though he easily could be for someone else, and they wouldn't be wrong.

It's not often that the movies we watched as teenagers still affect us as adults. I cannot remember if the ending of The Royal Tenenbaums movie moved me to tears as a teenager. Yet as I watched it as an adult, as Chas' (Ben Stiller) admits to Royal (Gene Hackman), with a crack in his voice, that he's had a rough year, I found myself moved. The teenager in me didn't quite know what it was like to have a tough year but needing to keep it together for those around me. Unlike Chas, the adult me is not keeping together for the sake of children but just for the sake of getting through the day and keeping my life together. It's been a rough year, indeed.

Overall, The Royal Tenenbaums held up for me as an adult but in a slightly different way from when I first saw it as a teenager. It was the beginning of my ongoing director crush on Anderson, which continues to this day, and now that I own a digital version, it will likely join the pile of movies that I keep on in the background while I work.

About Kaitlyn Booth

Kaitlyn is the Editor-in-Chief at Bleeding Cool. She loves movies, television, and comics. She's a member of the UFCA and the GALECA. Feminist. Writer. Nerd. Follow her on twitter @katiesmovies and @safaiagem on instagram. She's also a co-host at The Nerd Dome Podcast. Listen to it at http://www.nerddomepodcast.com

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