Perhaps the most effectively realized American comedy of the '90s, 1998's Rushmore catapulted director Wes Anderson to the forefront of what was briefly known as the "new sincerity" movement, along with partner Owen Wilson and fellow wunderkind Paul Thomas Anderson. Each draws heavily on the French New Wave and the work of directors like Robert Altman and Martin Scorsese, while eschewing ironic distance and treating their outsider protagonists with affection and warmth. P.T. Anderson followed his magnificent 1997 breakthrough Boogie Nights with 1999's Magnolia, a star-studded, messy, overreaching, ultimately compelling ensemble drama in the vein of ambitious masterpieces like Hannah And Her Sisters and Short Cuts. Two years later, Wes Anderson returns with his own star-studded, messy, overreaching, ultimately compelling ensemble comedy-drama, The Royal Tenenbaums, a film that resembles Magnolia nearly as much as it does Rushmore. Just as Magnolia seemed designed for people who loved Boogie Nights but somehow felt that it wasn't long or ambitious enough, Tenenbaums is the work of an artist who appreciates his own stylistic voice even more than his most ardent fans could. Painting on a huge, delicately wrought canvas, the film casts a wonderful Gene Hackman as the patriarch of a large, dysfunctional clan of eccentric geniuses bearing a resemblance to J.D. Salinger's Glass family, right down to its Irish-Jewish heritage. Broke and tumbling rapidly down the social ladder, Hackman attempts to reconcile with his estranged family, in the process running roughshod over the delicate egos of his three grown children: tormented former tennis star Luke Wilson, resentful business maven and widowed father Ben Stiller, and sullen, secretive Gwyneth Paltrow. Hackman's separated wife Anjelica Huston, meanwhile, attempts to marry tweedy business partner Danny Glover over Hackman's unsubtle objections, while Paltrow cheats on her Oliver Sacks-like husband (Bill Murray) with sweetly drug-addled Western writer Owen Wilson, much to the chagrin of love-struck Luke Wilson. Like Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums is often hysterically funny, but with a prominent undercurrent of death, sadness, and loss. Ultimately, Anderson seems intent on making his latest film not just good or even great, but a flat-out, career-defining masterpiece. If he and Wilson love their actors, characters, and ideas too much to reign themselves in, they at least overreach in the service of one of the year's warmest, funniest films.
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