“Royal Tenenbaums” at 20: How the Film That Established the “Wes Anderson” Effect Still Makes Its Mark

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Marianna Cerini, CNN

If a Wes anderson fan were to make a list of all the things that make them so spellbound with the director’s films, this could include the following: a bespoke design, symmetrical close-ups, a highly saturated color palette, quirky characters and outfits impeccably studied. But also carefully shot compositions, elaborate sets, attentive human comedy and a sense of the whimsical that few other filmmakers have been able to match.

“The Royal Tenenbaums”, released in theaters 20 years ago today, takes all these elements. In fact, it was Anderson’s first film to have them out in the open and cement his style – although this is his third film after “Bottle Rocket” in 1996 and “Rushmore” in 1998. .

It’s no wonder that, two decades later, many consider him to be the most important of his works – the archetypal Anderson film.

“I would define Anderson’s aesthetic as first and foremost that of a collector: of someone who is committed to bringing together disparate objects, each uniquely beautiful or interesting in their own way, and arranging them in a kind of pristine and neat display, “wrote Donna Kornhaber, associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin and author of the book.”Wes Anderson: a collector’s cinema, “in an email.

“’The Royal Tenenbaums’ was absolutely the first real appearance of this aesthetic in Anderson’s work. I would say this is the urtext of Anderson’s filmography because it is the film where his subject and style are most closely synchronized.

Looking back, it’s hard to disagree.

A visual tour de force, “The Royal Tenenbaums” is the cult classic that informed all of Anderson’s later work – and without which the Wes Anderson-esque world of books, Instagram accounts, music videos and the fashion that has become so entrenched in modern pop culture wouldn’t be quite the phenomenon it is today.

A film of premieres

While Anderson’s films are instantly recognizable for their hyper-liberated style and compelling cinematography, they are also quintessential “Andersonians” for their unorthodox plots and myriad characters.

“The Royal Tenenbaums” helped forge this path.

Divided into a series of chapters as if it were a novel, the film tells the story of the large (albeit highly dysfunctional) Tenenbaum family, led by Patriarch Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman), while all the world comes together in an unexpected winter gathering at their New York mansion.

A lawyer struck off the bar, Royal has been living in a hotel, on credit, since he separated from his wife Etheline (Anjelica Huston), whom he is trying to win back. His children, three former child prodigies, are responsible for his financial poverty. There’s Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow), who was adopted and has been a gifted playwright since ninth grade but hasn’t had success for some time; Richie (Luke Wilson), former tennis champion; and Chas (Ben Stiller), who was a financial speculator as a child and is now going through a crisis over the death of his wife.

The quirky ‘alien’ characters that inhabit the film will become a recurring feature of Anderson’s work – think of ‘Moonrise Kingdom’, ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ and ‘The Life Aquatic’.

But the film also solidified other stylistic tropes.

“The Royal Tenenbaums” was the first of Anderson’s films to truly merge storytelling and visual art, taking the filmmaker’s astonishing attention to detail to a whole new level of meticulousness (like the family banner battered by the inclement weather that gently ripples atop their house, or the Dalmatian mice that pop up from time to time at the corner of the frame, which had their spots drawn with Sharpies).

This has made costumes an essential part of her characters – a device for revealing more about their inner state than anything else. Likewise, he was the first to focus on a family affair (“Fantastic Mr. Fox” being the other, and, in a different way, “The Darjeeling Limited”), and bring out the fantasy world. from the director of his native Texas, where “Bottle Rocket” and “Rushmore” were defined.

“Anderson has given himself permission to envision a whole new geography for the first time, building a fantastic New York City from the imagination,” Kornhaber said. “Such whimsical flights of geography would become one of the hallmarks of his work, from” The Life Aquatic “to” The French Dispatch. “”

“The aesthetic of Wes Anderson”

The visual imprint of “The Royal Tenenbaums” did not stop on the screen.

What makes the film so eminently revisable today is unmistakably the “Wes Anderson aesthetic” that it brought to the real world – from the clothes in our wardrobes to the furniture in restaurants.

Think of Margot’s glamorous retro outfits and chunky eyeliner, Chas’s signature red Adidas tracksuits, and Richie’s chunky headband (a reference to the Borg-McEnroe era of tennis).

These are all looks referenced over the past decades by mainstream brands (H&M, J.Crew) and upscale designers, including Marc Jacobs, who featured Margot-influenced mid-length hems and plush fabrics. in its spring 2008 Louis Vuitton collection; and Gucci, which has been tapping into the Tenenbaums closet since Alessandro Michele became its creative director in 2015.

Tenenbaum-chic reached its peak that year, with no less than six designers – including Veronica Etro and Felipe Oliveira Baptista – citing movie as an influence on their fall collections.

Then there’s the expansive Tenenbaums Estate, where most of the movie takes place. It “would go on to become one of the most recognizable homes in the movie, a kind of hipster Hogwarts (or, to take a more classic Hollywood reference, a later update of Orson Welles’ estate ‘The Magnificent Ambersons'”, who it was supposed to talk about), ”Kornhaber said.

That even eye-catching aesthetic – with its whimsical pastel colors, patterned wallpapers and retro touches – a permeated the world 21st century interiors.

Through all of its costumes, sets and stages – the result of collaborations with costume designer Karen Patch and production designer David Wasco – “The Royal Tenenbaums” has played a pivotal role in shaping the fashion sensibilities of hipster millennials. from around the world (you could even say he helped define “nerdcore” “and” geek chic “), and inspired entire design subcultures.

Anderson’s later films have all followed in the same footsteps, influencing more fashion, more design and more pop culture – and making “from a Wes Anderson movie” a common phrase in our daily lexicon, but also a popular one. mood to which we continue to aspire.

For Kornhaber, the “Wes Anderson effect” stems from the underlying sensibility of his cinema.

“I think Anderson’s aesthetic speaks very strongly to the idea of ​​creating beauty and order out of discord and disarray,” she said. “He comes up with the fantasy that if we rearrange things just a little bit, we can create a new version of the world where everything is exactly in the right place, all the lines are parallel or perpendicular, everything is symmetrical, all the colors are coordinated. “

Ultimately, however, a fascination with all that Anderson – and the reason “The Royal Tenenbaums” continues to be a statement film today – likely comes from the unique way in which the style and substance inform each other.

“If Anderson was just an amazing stylist, I don’t think he would have the success as a filmmaker that he has had,” Kornhaber said.

“The real power of his work lies in the goals he sets this style on. There is an underlying sadness in the Anderson films, a deep sense of loss at the center of every story – a loved one who has passed away, a family that goes apart. Along with this heartache is Anderson’s keen attention to visual design. Style is not aimless in his films: it is an attempt to alleviate a deep sense of loss with a willful emphasis on order.

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