Monday, December 26, 2022

Recasting 2001 (supporting): "The Royal Tenenbaums"

Call me a bad Streep fan, but I've never seen Fantastic Mr. Fox. The 2009 animated film directed by Wes Anderson has just never struck me as something I felt an urgent need to watch. But it includes Meryl! Yes, in voiceover only. Had this film come out during the time I was writing this blog, I most likely would've taken the time. Maybe I still will--it actually seems like the kind of picture I'd really enjoy. 

But the nice thing is that with this second iteration of my recasting project, I get to imagine Meryl participating in a Wes Anderson film in which she'd actually be physically onscreen. The Royal Tenenbaums would've been a great opportunity. When one thinks about a Wes Anderson film, it's easy to cite this one as a representation of his unique aesthetic. While it was filmed around New York City, the styling and production design doesn't necessarily lend itself to a particular area or even place in time. The story follows the Tenenbaum family, headed by Royal and Etheline "Ethel," whose three gifted children have grown up more troubled than they are necessarily accomplished. Gene Hackman and Ajelica Huston portrayed Royal and Ethel, with their kids Chas, Richie and Margot portrayed by Ben Stiller, Luke Wilson and Gwyneth Paltrow, respectively. 

Royal has historically been an inattentive father and when the kids are adolescents, he explains that he and their mother are separating. He returns over twenty years later to try to reconcile, with mixed results. He lies about having stomach cancer to win sympathy. 

I didn't really remember how many emotions Ethel goes through in this two minute scene! Shock, disbelief, indignation, sympathy, sadness, anger. This snapshot sort of seems to encapsulate the pair's whole relationship. Ethel is kind-hearted, if herself perhaps a bit of an aloof parent at times, but she has to negotiate the uncertainties of life with her unreliable and often dishonest or disingenuous husband. I like the following scene as well. Ethel seems to be feeling a bit of that old spark. Her heart says one thing but her bright mind tells her another. It's a tricky negotiation that is as old as the stars. 

We see Ethel's accountant and suitor, Henry Sherman (Danny Glover) spying from behind the trees. Ethel ends up choosing her mind (and heart too, I suppose) when Royal relents and agrees to finally and officially divorce. She and Henry wed at the end. 

Of course there's a lot more that goes on in this story, as much of the plot surrounds the lives of the three kids their partners/families and tribulations. It might be easy to almost get a bit distracted by the eccentricities of the characters and visuals in the film, but to me, the story ultimately comes down to family. Uncertainties around a parent's view of us, their physical presence and the overall sense we get of ourselves by the way they treat us as adults is a very powerful influence on our happiness. And to be partnered with a person like Royal, who may be exciting and stimulating at first, often ends up hurting us more often than they make us feel good. So there's some great character study to be had in this movie, on top of all the Wes Anderson quirk and absurdist tendencies. 

The film was a hit with audiences and critics alike. Huston managed a Satellite nomination, while the bulk of the acting awards recognition was heaped on Hackman, who scored a Golden Globe win for Actor in a Musical or Comedy, and a couple of Critics Circles awards. Anderson earned an Academy Award nomination for the screenplay he co-wrote with Owen Wilson. The Royal Tenenbaums was Anderson's most commercially successful picture until 2014's huge hit, The Grand Budapest Hotel. 


  1. Well this is one to add to my list, I've heard of it but never got around to actually seeing it! Good point about working with Anderson, I always like to see Meryl get the opportunity to collaborate with revered or unusual talents.

    For my choice I will go with a part in movie I just saw for the first time earlier this month - Mulholland Drive. I have heard people rave and read its appearance on multiple lists of best movies of the century and I was impressed as well. This would give the happy opportunity to work with the renowned David Lynch.

    For Meryl, I recast the role of Coco, the landlady-cum-society lady. Not only would Meryl get to play two contrasting characters due to the"flip" in the movie, but also do a movie about her industry!

    A final reason for picking this (arguably) small part is that it was filmed in 1999 and therefore Meryl could still have her year off!

    I hope you are having a lovely holiday Jeff, in spite of the weather I see American is suffering!

    1. Oh gosh I've only seen Mullholland Drive once not long after it came out and I don't remember much about it. I think I either didn't like it or didn't get it or both. Probably worth a rewatch.

      Hope you're enjoying the holidays as well, Charlie! And yes, we had some treacherous weather across much of the U.S. this past week. At least in Minnesota we're used to being dangerously cold. Not so much in the South...