The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

Comedy Rated R

Forget Max Fischer – this is Wes Anderson’s opus. A sprawling tragicomedy about the resentment and possible reconciliation that drive the Tenenbaum family, this features Anderson and co-writer Owen Wilson at their most ambitious. The story just keeps spilling out of them. It’s as if they are pre-schoolers who have more to say when coloring time is over, and so they keep on scribbling while all the other kids settle down for a nap. Gene Hackman does a variation on his Lex Luthor as Royal Tenenbaum, the conniving, estranged scion of a family of former child prodigies (Luke Wilson, Ben Stiller, Gwyneth Paltrow), now grown up and in varying degrees of distress and denial. Rueful laughs dominate, so that a scene can unexpectedly go from eliciting guffaws to tears. Anderson makes the funniest films you’ve ever seen and the saddest, something like those droll William Wegman photographs of Weimaraner dogs dressed up in suits. Every performance perfectly captures this elusive tone, whether it’s Anjelica Huston as the matriarch or supporting players Owen Wilson, Bill Murray and Danny Glover. I still prefer Anderson’s Rushmore – it feels more spontaneous – but this more than anything else showcases what he does best.