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I must have seen this movie when it premiered around the time of the Berlin film festival in 2001, but it is the prime example of me never being able to fully connect with Anderson’s films. I just didn’t recall any of it, but – as with all his films – I feel somehow obliged to give it the opportunity of another viewing. Anderson makes films that are inaccessible to me in a way that I can appreciate what he’s doing, while remaining an outside observer in a way similar to somebody looking at an oil painting in a gallery. You would not dare judging that painting after a quick glance, right?

Alec Baldwin’s baritone voice narrates and guides us through what I would call an illustrated description of the Tenenbaum family. Along come quite hilarious scenes of family members breeding Dalmatian mice or writing infantile plays about some kids in animal costumes. The narrator structure leaves me detached, an interested observer, receiving a back story that currently has no relevance to me. This is a reaction I often have with voice-over narration, I feel it is frequently used when the authors have surrendered the more complex task of telling what there is to be told on screen, or if there’s nothing to be told, merely bits and pieces to be illustrated. Hence: I was entertained by this … not sure, half-hour? … montage, but it reconfirmed to me that I have a problem with Anderson’s story-telling.

I think I prefer the second half of the film, when the back story is done, and Gene Hackman’s Royal Tenenbaum tries to sneak himself into the family again (quite successfully, in the end), and when the mature dysfunctionality of this family comes to play. I kept the position of impartial observer, though, frequently wondering about things like whether Bill Murray’s character would be promoted to a more prominent role at some point, or whether there will ever be a film in which I do not find Owen Wilson annoying. I think my lack of empathy again comes through the perennial use of the narrator: I am not asked to partake in this, but I am asked to observe, an Anderson tool that will probably forever keep me from loving his movies, while thoroughly admiring what he’s doing.

http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/royal_tenenbaums/

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