This week we inspect the sinking battleship of idiosyncratic eclecticism that is 2001’s comedy-drama The Royal Tenenbaums written by Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson. This ostentatiously oddball screenplay is a finely tuned saga of a once-brilliant family undergoing a severe existential maelstrom. It’s your classic Miltonian tale of a tragicomic figure felled by hubris and finding the real drama in picking up the pieces and pursuing something like redemption. And the writers deliver this epic chronicle of seeking grace in the face of tragedy with a pinch-perfect sprinkle of absurdity and sapience. It’s a trenchant tumble of whimsical humor and emotional hurly-burlies. The writers corral a large ensemble cast of characters and dedicate just the right amount of screen time to each and every one. Having numerous main players can sometimes come off a little overwrought, unwieldy, and ultimately a tangle of under-developed entities we haven’t had enough time to adequately identify with. But with this script, the writers have managed to wring optimal empathy from this gaggle of alluring and flawed characters. It’s testament to the writing’s economy of language that it so accurately hits home with us and we sympathize and gravitate so to these charmingly crackpot characters. We pretty much have them precisely sized up from frame one:
The character that we’re forced to warm up to foremost is the grand patriarch himself, ol’ pappy Royal Tenenbaum. Life has dealt Royal some cruel blows. He's the runner whom the race outran. Washed out and weary, he’s a blowhard braggart. He’s no-good and a proper villain and a crook. But we dote on him like an elderly uncle figure who is slowly coming to terms with the bastard he was in the past. It’s a theme that audiences can’t help but relate to. The idea of someone reckoning for the sins of yesteryear and seeking a sort of thwarted sense of reconciliation with his estranged family. Maybe we commiserate with Royal because there’s a little bit of his dogged determination in all of us to salvage ourselves and re-steer the ship toward the atolls of atonement.
There’s hope for the scoundrel yet.
He’s also just a bonafide badass. Getting more pleasantly petulant with age, he’s the last of the gentleman scallywags. He’s seen and done it all but still can’t quite get down the nuances of normal socially acceptable behavior. But one must proffer the proper plaudits for his acumen for diplomacy and intercultural experiences abroad.
The writing is top shelf and it becomes but all too apparent why this was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay along with moseying its way to the BBC’s 100 Greatest Films of the 21st Century. It’s a script that yanks every heart string taut and deflates both lungs with prolonged bouts of laughter. A tough writerly one-two to inflict and line to tip-toe. But all in all, a script definitely worth a damn.
Tinctured with tenderness, the tale of the Tenenbaums will relentlessly rouse your funny femur. So shag ass and galumph to our shelves and steal away into its pages for a spell. And feel free to take off your shoes and one of your socks and cry over how good this script is.
And when you’re done and dusted with The Royal Tenenbaums, there’re still heaps of fresh scripts all primed for you to plow your proboscis into. Such as every episode of Hulu’s runaway hit The Handmaid’s Tale. Or a helping of the comedic-stylings of The Red Skelton Show that ran for an inexhaustible two decades producing a dizzying and cancellation-defying 672 episodes. That’s legs.
You’re also encouraged to drag a languid finger along our digital stacks for other assorted scriptly serenity.