OK, so I finally watched this and being we were just talking about it via e-mail I figured I'd write up another review here. By the way, I now know why Mayor Ed Kotch did movie reviews after leaving politics. It's a quick and easy way to fill up space.
So stylistically this is along the same lines as Rushmore, The Life Aquatic, and I assume Lost in Translation. It's got a slow pace punctuated with instances of frenzied action, there are lots of bizarre flawed characters, and the comedy is delivered wrapped inside ironic uneasy situations. I understand why this movie has a following, but to me it's just painfully boring. I want to know what happens next to the characters, but I'm hardly willing to wait through the long pauses and ironic looks to find out.
There's a lot of detail in the movie, and at first I though that it was very subtle. But then they went the extra step to point out every subtlety. Like the mice... in the first 5 minutes (which is really the best part of the movie), they introduce all the characters including the three gifted kids. One of them bred a "dalmatian mouse" and made a fortune selling them to a Japanese market. Throughout the movie, they show spotted mice subtly... which is cool, because you can say "Oh yeah, that kid invented those..." But then the go and write it in to the script, "Hey, what's with all these spotted mice"... "Oh, my brother invented them." So much for the subtlety. Another example was Paltrow's missing finger. They should have just left it an obscure mystery, not gone the extra step to explain it.
I'm not sure if they should give Gweneth Paltrow an Oscar for that role, but it must be really hard to scowl continuously and give such little emotional content in every line.
And sorry if these are spoilers... but the whole beauty of this movie was the funny bizarre characters. Did it really help to make it into a serious suicide attempt? Oh, I see... that's IRONIC... because it's suicide, and it's comedy. Not a slapstick suicide like on Laugh In, but a real bloody suicide, with funny ironic characters. And did we really need an "After School Special" aspect w/ Owen Wilson's drug problem? That added nothing, and just drew the whole thing out.
So basically, I'm with J on this. The writers and producers of this flick are hipster douche bags who want to show how ironic they can be, and if you don't get it, they win because they're hipper and more ironic than you.
Finally, I have to make this comparison. This reminded me of The Big Chill in a few ways. First of all, in TBC I didn't give a damn about anybody in that house. I didn't care that their friend died, and even though stuff happened... nothing really happened in the whole movie. But the most important thing in TBC was that they would play sound bites of popular songs from the 60s and 70s that spark emotional reactions. So the whole movie becomes a big series of rock video, only with sound bites instead of full songs.
Well TRT, takes that to a whole new level, as did Rushmore. There must have been 50 songs in there all picked for maximum emotional punch in as few seconds as possible. But they didn't go from the top of the charts, they went into the back catalogs... the obsucre selections... the "I'm cooler than you because you don't know these songs" section. Sure, everybody nows "Ruby Tuesday" by The Rolling Stones, but how many people know "Back Street Girl"? Never mind The Velvet Underground with Nico (at least two songs), Judy is a Punk by The Ramones, Police and Theives by The Clash. OK, so I actually GOT all those obscure references... cuz I AM that douche bag... but they will all go right over the heads of 99% of the movie goers.
Of the three, I liked Rushmore the best by far. Life Aquatic was much more fun and funny than Tanenbaums though it has mostly the same drawbacks, and it just got too far out for me. I GET The Royal Tannenbaums, and I see why some people would love it, but I can't recomend it. It didn't work for me.