Lingering Questions: The Royal Tenenbaums

(This is an extended preview of the PopRox Sunday column in the Pocono Record.)

No movie is free from lingering questions. Even if it’s seemingly perfect, you still can’t help but be bothered by a certain scene or line on repeat viewings.

poor eli doesn't make the family picture.

In that spirit, here comes The Royal Tenenbaums, director Wes Anderson’s classic 2001 thinking-man’s comedy that’s getting the big-time Criterion Collection’s Blu-ray treatment on Tuesday.

For me, it’s about as perfect as a comedy — or movie — can get, with beautifully and creatively developed characters and a story that only gets better on repeat viewings. But even the Mona Lisa might have a smudge in it somewhere.

I did this with Hoosiers — my favorite movie — last year, so it’s not like I’m particularly picking on anyone. It’s just when you watch a movie 8,561 times, you tend to get annoyed by certain things that only mildly bothered you the first time around. And I’ll probably be making this a regular feature, to ask questions of an old movie years after the fact that you can only think of after you’re watching it for the 647th time at 2 in the morning after coming home from the bars. The Hoosiers one got some interesting/weird responses, so this is my challenge to you. Let’s see if you can hang with the big Tenebaums boys. 

So 11 years later, here are some stray/lingering questions I still have when I watch The Royal Tenenbaums. It should be obvious, but there are heavy spoilers in here in case you just haven’t found the time since 2001 to see it:

• Does Anderson even know of a song produced in the last 15 years? He must, right? Maybe he doesn’t own a radio. Or an iPod. Or know how to find Pandora on his computer.

i have friends who named their kid ari because of this movie. suffice to say, that's how we became friends.

• I can’t be the only person who watches Tenebaums and gets seriously cheesed off that Ben Stiller, outside of Tenebaums, seems frustratingly comfortable sitting in his Ben Stiller zone of The Watch and Zoolander and Meet the Parents and Dodgeball. Funny, yeah, but when you see him as Chas Tenenbaum, you know he can be better. Oscar-caliber better. Before you say anything, I’m not counting Greenberg because I’m still trying to forget that movie ever existed.

• Wes Anderson’s first three movies, all written with Owen Wilson: Bottle Rocket, Rushmore and Tenenbaums. Those are 3, 2 and 1, respectively, in ranking his best movies. Since then, four movies, none as good as any of the first three, none written with Owen Wilson. Do … do you see where I’m going with this? What’s it gonna take to put those two kids in a writing office together?

• Does anyone else actually believe there is a little section of New York City hidden away in the Bronx or something where 375th Street actually exists? No? Oh, well, neither do I then.

• The Baumer would have been about 20 or so when his tennis meltdown happened. When the movie came out, Luke Wilson was 30. Just going by that, no wonder he was in love with his sister, he’s been on a boat for 10 years! He’d be ready for anything when he finally got off that thing.

• Is this a Frat Pack movie or not? You’ve got both Wilson brothers and Ben Stiller, which should make it an automatic qualifier. But when you think of the theme behind most of the Frat Pack movies — the raucous, immature, crass humor of movies like Old School, Anchorman, or Wedding Crashers — does Tenenbaums fit? Official ruling: It’s not. Debate away.

there is a hint in this scene ...

• Margot Tenenbaum and I have one thing in common, and one thing only — but I won’t reveal it. Feel free to guess in the comments or on the PopRox Facebook page. I’ll eliminate your first guess: I have never been married to any of the members of any Jamaican reggae bands.

• Of all the selfish, ridiculous things Royal did, isn’t just randomly showing up and thinking his family would take him back, cancer or no cancer, at the top of the list?

• At the time of his disbarment, what was the value of Royal’s fortune? He spent about 10 years not working, but still stayed in a swanky New York City hotel and took full advantage, it would seem, of the hotel’s room service and massages. That’s at least $400 a day, right? That’s $1.46 million before we even talk about child support, though it doesn’t seem like he bothered with that. I’m going with around $3 million.

• Have there ever been two actors more perfectly cast as brothers than the kids who played Ari and Uzi? I feel like they’ll be the subject of a future Switched at Birth episode or something.

• There are two performances I’ll go to my grave wondering how they didn’t get Oscar nominations. One of them is Gene Hackman as Royal Tenenbaum. The other is Tom Hanks as Jimmy Dugan in A League of Their Own. And I’m serious.

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