THE DVD SHELF: "The Royal Tenenbaums," "Metropolitan" and the Absurdist Comedy "Million Dollar Legs"

By Steven Suskin
02 Sep 2012

Cover art for "The Royal Tenenbaums"
Director Wes Anderson creates an altogether unique universe in the 2001 charmer, The Royal Tenenbaums [Criterion]. Royal Tenenbaum is the patriarch of this impossibly unlikely — but thoroughly Delectable — clan. So richly detailed is this film that you assume it must be based on some thick, literate novel, but no; it is created in and of itself. It almost seems like Anderson purposely assembled a cast of actors who don't belong in the same movie and rose to the challenge of perfectly fitting them into a grand puzzle: Gene Hackman, Anjelica Huston, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Stiller, Bill Murray, Danny Glover, Luke Wilson, and his brother Owen (who collaborated with Anderson on the screenplay).

The Tenenbaums are a family of geniuses after the genius has worn off. They live in their own Manhattan castle, in the form of a wonderful old corner brownstone. (The actual house they used was on West 144th Street, in Harlem.) The place is chock-filled with specific and meaningful artifacts, each of which speaks to us — at least, those artifacts that we are able to register as the camera and the dialogue whirl by. Anderson, in a booklet which accompanies this Blu-ray, notes that the film "contains more perhaps unnecessary visual detail than both of my previous films combined." (Criterion, most happily, provides a six-page insert with three-dozen hand-drawn preliminary sketches, designs and groundplans by Eric Chase Anderson, brother of the director. For fans of the film, this is indispensable.)

Also included is an incisive essay by Kent Jones in which he suggests that "The Royal Tenenbaums" has its stylistic roots in the films of Preston Sturges mixed in with Orson Welles' "The Magnificent Ambersons," Salinger's short stories, and decades-worth of New Yorker cartoons. Well put, I say.

The actors are, each and every one, magical; it's just that kind of film. One that you will be glad to watch repeatedly, with so many layers to be seen. And savored.

Visit to check out theatre-related DVDs for sale.