The Royal Tenenbaums is one of those movies that, if I’m not careful, I can easily end up watching the entire thing when I intended to only watch a scene or two. Wes Anderson specializes in creating alternate realities, parallel worlds that look and feel completely believable even if they operate according to a slightly different set of natural laws. And yet, that slight removal from reality is what allows them to be so poignant and impactful.
That’s especially true of The Royal Tenenbaums, which chronicles the years of heartache, betrayal, and alienation that have taken place within a family of geniuses due to a father’s absence and betrayal. And while it’s tempting to simply watch it for the dark humor and laugh at the oddball characters in their uncomfortably comedic situations, the film is ultimately a powerful story of family, forgiveness, and redemption.
Although the film has an all-star cast, Gene Hackman steals almost every scene he’s in as Royal Tenenbaum, the curmudgeonly, conniving, no good patriarch. He’s a son of a bitch, and yet you can’t help but love this gruff man as he tries to lie his way back into his family’s good graces. The film’s final denouement is a lovely tracking shot that finds all of the characters picking up the pieces after a horrible accident, and we get to see some of the fruit that Royal’s attempts bear.
The scene features Ben Stiller (whose performance here makes you wish he’d leave films like Night At The Museum far, far behind) as the one son who has consistently refused his father’s advances. Here, he finally breaks down and confesses “I’ve had a rough year, dad”. Royal embraces him, they exchange a glance (and a dog), and that’s it. It’s a short scene, and yet so much happens between those two characters in those few seconds that it feels like the entire movie was building up to that one moment.