The Royal Tenenbaums is the third movie by writer/director Wes Anderson, whose previous films included Bottle Rocket (1996) and Rushmore (1998).

Released in December 2001, The Royal Tenenbaums was written by Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson, and directed by Wes Anderson.

Heralded as vastly superior to his previous films, The Royal Tenenbaums brings back Wes Anderson alumns Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson and Bill Murray, as well as adding to the roster big names like Gene Hackman, Anjelica Huston, Ben Stiller, Gwyneth Paltrow and Danny Glover, just to name a few.

The movie's tagline is, "Family isn't a word, it's a sentence."

The general plot finds Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman) announcing to his estranged family that he has a terminal illness. The family reunites, with Royal's wife, and his three former-prodigy children (a playwright, a tennis player and a financial expert), and their respective families. Surely, hilarity ensues.

First Billed Cast:
MPAA: Rated R for some language, sexuality/nudity and drug content.
Runtime: 108 minutes
Country: USA
Language: English
Color: Color (Technicolor)
Sound Mix: DTS / Dolby Digital / SDDS
Certification: USA:R

Thanks to the Internet Movie Database (
I saw The Royal Tenenbaums today and halfway through the movie I was ready to come home and tell the E2 crowds: don't bother, this isn't it. I was 100% ready to damn this movie with faint praise -- the movie is stylish, pretty, has a fine cast... but in a marked contrast to Rushmore, it never gives us the space to breathe and reflect and decide if we care about the characters. It's packed with slapstick and character-based comedy and while Ben Stiller is sure funny with his gruff father-hating, after 45 minutes of playing the character (as well as all the other characters) for a whole lot of small laughs I was ready to admit that the movie had lost its humor because I just didn't care anymore if Gene Hackman was a dumb racist, or if Luke Wilson was still wearing his tennis headband. There is only so long we can laugh at a stranger before we either get to know them, and laugh at them as a friend or and enemy, or forget them and laugh at something else.

Then something serious happened, and I watched the rest of the movie, and connected, and I remembered why Rushmore was so damn good.

This movie has a lot of strong characters, which may be responsible for the problems I had with it. It's a good mix of actors who have already established a warm space in director Wes Anderson's world (Owen and Luke Wilson, Bill Murray, the charming Kumar Pallana) and well established, talented Hollywood actors (Gene Hackman, Ben Stiller, Danny Glover... and Angelica Houston is especially good through the whole film, though she stands apart from the slapstick and silliness somewhat). The recycling of actors reminds me of Hal Hartley's films, as well as the music community of my hometown, and gives the movie a homemade feel, like all these actors are here because they want to be, and working with each other is a real pleasure. Which it should be.

The visual style and design, as well as the music score, are refinements of the style seen in Rushmore -- the same 1960's influenced look that is clearly working to try to step outside of any particular time. The soundtrack features the Beatles, Nick Drake, Bob Dylan, Elliott Smith, the Rolling Stones, the Clash, Van Morrison, the Velvet Underground, the Ramones, and Nico (whew!), and does a good job of not beating you around the head with its musical taste. Additional scoring by Mark Mothersbaugh (of Devo fame) adds pleasant touches. Visual textual layovers and voiceovers (tastefully done by Alec Baldwin, which puzzles me for a reason I can't quite put my finger on), inserted into "chapter" cuts, give the film a storytelling narrative which tell us that it is okay to relate emotionally to the characters despite the fact that they live in a bizzare, fairytale world of New York wealth -- compare here to John Hughes and his wealthy teen angst movies of the mid-1980's.

But the key element of Anderson and Owen Wilson's writing for these films that ties them together, in my mind at least, as films that matter, is not their stylishness, or their funny character quirks and minor slapstick, but their ability to write dialogue about interpersonal relationships that is embarassing and petty in the real way that real people are embarassing and petty. When these characters attempt to be suavely mean and cutting, they may well find their mark, and there is a good chance that feelings will be hurt. But just like in real life, they rarely come away with a sense of having said just the right thing. They don't strut off; these characters are too busy trying to wrench feet from mouths. They are forced to confront the fact that hurting other people rarely makes us hurt less. And the right balance of stupid refusal to admit to being wrong and gradual emotional growth is struck here, as in Rushmore, for us to stick with these characters, without dismissing them for being too mean or resolving their conflicts too easily.

This movie is, overall, much lighter than its predecessor. And some may find the ultimate resolution of the film to be a little too pat, a bit too Hollywood; or they may find that the connection to the characters which didn't strike me until the second half of the film never comes at all. But it is my opinion that moviegoers who can appreciate that balance between the depressing end of the art-house spectrum and the trite end of the Hollywood spectrum will find this an entertaining and engaging film.

This movie reminded me of a number of other movies in tone or style, or whatnot, and only Rushmore made it into the actual review. Harold and Maude is an obvious stylistic comparison, and I imagine a great source of inspiration for all of Wes Anderson's work. Ghost World has similar emotional-attachment-through-embarassment motifs. Amelie uses a similar trick of narrative structure creating a space where we can accept the characters despite their somewhat unreal settings. All of these are fine movies.

Just saw the Royal Tenenbaums not an hour ago, and I have a blank in my head that craves stuffing. So for my first node I'll write about this movie, and hope that someone else can help me understand it more. (Sorry if I put spoilers in this node: if I do I'll try to warn you reader)

I think one of my problems may have been that I came into the theatre having seen Wes Anderson's Rushmore three times and loving it (although as of yet I have not seen Bottle Rocket). Maybe my expectations were too high, and I should have come into the theatre with a more open mind (I do plan to see it again) but as conform said above, the first half of the movie was very different from any sort of expectations.

The acting was stupendous, and I was able to connect with each character's flaws, quirks and problems. Yet after the turning point of the film (**SPOILER ALERT-I think this point comes when Royal is found out for faking his disease and kicked out of the house**), while I was still able to understand each character, something flew out the window for me.

I might have just stopped paying enough attention, but I felt like there was something missing. Though I was constantly reminding myself of the beginning of the film when the relationships between Royal and each of the children is explained (and I advise any other viewer to do so as well) I didn't feel that it tied together in my mind that well...that the new developments of the characters went in strange directions. Royal had a most pleasureable development...Perhaps what struck me was the Eli-Margot-Chas triangle. To me its outcome wasn't explained, and I wish we'd gotten to see even more of Eli as a character. One thing that I felt was left hanging was Raleigh's relationship with Margot.

On the whole, I think the film wonderfully portrays caricatures of people that many of us feel inside ourselves: the need for secrecy Margot has, how when her secrets are exposed it hurts those nearest to her. Chas' pain and need to suppress it, and his anger at his father. Richie's disappointments and his love, and of course Royal's realization that his life was devoid of a wonderful thing: a family, even a dysfunctional one.

As for Anderson's and Wilson's use of almost slap-stick-like comedy, I feel that like Catch-22 and other works of satire, it is one of the only ways that people can accept and think about these circumstances, these deep feelings. By putting a light coating of humour on top, we are able to dig through the cold soil underneath.

Perhaps I'll find what I was missing when I go to see this movie again, but I really would love to hear from other E2 members what their thoughts on this movie are.

Since the other nodes have all the actors, roles, and vital statistics listed, I'll get right to the point. The movie made me laugh, and interestingly enough, it made me laugh at things that most people (even crass abrasive mannered geeks like myself) would not really be able to laugh at, but are absurd aspects of human behavior that deserve to be laughed at, and that laughter is healthy for the soul and we all need it. I remember laughing out loud at something that was very funny but not socially acceptable to laugh at, and as soon as I broke the ice, everybody had a good laugh with me, even the middle aged housewives two rows back.

Here is a short list of some of its finer points without spoiling the plot any:

One final note, this movie I liked for a lot of the same reasons I liked The Graduate. I'm not sure I can explain the connection, but anybody who really enjoyed The Graduate might also get a kick out of The Royal Tenenbaums.

After watching The Royal Tenenbaums, I felt a great sense of joy. This movie is full of the ups and downs, victories and failures, and happy and sad moments of life. As in all of director Wes Anderson’s films, it is the hopeful cheeriness that is memorable. Tenenbaums is a rare gem that sent tingles down my spine days after viewing. I was overjoyed with the accuracy of Anderson’s portrayal of how human beings act, rather than Hollywood’s fraudulent version. This was one of the best films I’ve seen in quite some time.

The film, written by Anderson and actor Owen Wilson, is like a well-staged play. Gene Hackman plays Royal Tenenbaum, a street-wise hustler who deserted his wife and three genius children, played by Luke Wilson, Ben Stiller, and Gwyneth Paltrow. The children become wealthy and famous after their parents split. This is where the film begins; at thirty years of age, the three are scarred by their father's negligence and decide to move back into the Tenenbaum Estate in New York (although the name of the city is never explicitly stated). So why should the audience care about three snot-nosed rich kids and a selfish old lecher? Anderson’s genius is his ability to make his characters human. Royal Tenenbaum tells his family he is dying of cancer in order to get close enough to make up for his decades of ignorance. Chas (Stiller) is trying obsessively to be the father he never had. Richie (L. Wilson) is tortured with love for his half-sister Margot (Paltrow), who has always felt inadequate due to the love never received from Royal. The three have as many faults as the average person, and we can always see emotion in their faces. I felt connected to each character because they are as imperfect as every person I know.

Dialogue between characters is full of awkward pauses and faux pas, and we can feel the tension between characters. When Richie confronts longtime friend and literary celebrity Eli Cash (Owen Wilson) about his telling Margot about Richie's love for her, Cash says, “I’m sorry, I’m on mescaline.” The tender, caring Richie replies, “Did you say mescaline? pause Do you do that often?” The dialogue reveals much about the characters. While some films supply corny phrases and suave sayings to give characters an edge, Anderson and Wilson use dialogue to sculpt believable characters and allow the viewer to relate to the emotions of the characters.

Despite the characters' flaws, the film isn’t a tearjerker. Although the characters are plagued by sadness and betrayal, all retain optimism and hope that their wounds will heal. Anderson rarely relies on slapstick humor; the film is humorous in that the viewer can relate his own life to those of the characters, step back, and chuckle at the often-absurd behavior of people. Anderson makes it possible to laugh, however, because the characters are caricatures of people we see every day. I could relate to Margot’s need for secrecy, and I laughed because she hid her smoking habit at the age of thirty. I found Eli’s cowboy attire humorous because I know people who role-play to avoid their feelings. Even Chas’ resentment of Royal was funny at times, because Royal, like every other character, doesn’t mope. Anderson is clever enough to balance weighty, emotional scenes with humorous ones. He never dwells on sadness, and this is his greatest achievement in Tenenbaums.

The setting for the film is beautiful. The Tenenbaum Estate has its own personality. Situated on a street corner in upper class New York, the large house has pink and blue walls and enough animal heads to make a taxidermist squeal with delight. At the beginning of the film, we are given a tour of the Estate, and what struck me were the modern furnishings situated amongst antiquated machinery and architecture. This gives the house, and therefore the film, a sense of timelessness. We are never told when the story occurs. The scenery and costume design are infuenced by styles from the last four decades. The story of the dysfunctional family’s struggle to forget the past could happen any time and anywhere.

The soundtrack adds to this timeless quality as well, with a mixture of British invasion bands, eighties music, and nineties singer-songwriters. All of these songs, as well as the instrumentals made for the film, are expertly placed and often say as much as the characters do. In the film’s most poignant moment, Richie’s attempted suicide, Elliot Smith’s melancholy “Needle in the Hay” conveys Richie’s fear and longing. When Royal takes Chas’ twins on an outing in the city, Paul Simon’s “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard” made me feel as if I was having as much fun as the characters. A beautiful instrumental version of The Beatles’ “Hey Jude” serves as the film’s opening, and Nick Drake’s “Northern Sky” is the background to one of the happiest moments in the film, Richie’s admission of his love for Margot after his attempted suicide.

The climax is brilliant. All characters are present for the event that will change their attitudes. When Eli takes too much mescaline and runs his car into the Estate, Chas chases him through the house (the cinematography of this scene is gorgeous; the camera expertly follows the comical action of Eli running away from an obsessive Chas). Chas realizes that he is too uptight at the same time Eli realizes he has a drug problem. Margot realizes she no longer loves Eli. Royal realizes he enjoys his family more than anything else. Richie, Margot, and Chas forgive Royal. I was overjoyed that characters to which I was emotionally attached got what they deserved. It was as if I was physically present at this happy yet realistic ending.

While I loved the character development and the costumes, no actor besides Owen Wilson stands out. His writing and acting reveal comic genius. When Richie asks him to confront his habit, Eli replies, “I’m sorry. I just always wanted to be a Tenenbaum.” This touching scene is made hilarious by the following; we see the paranoid Eli look back while he runs to his car to escape his friend. Other actors fail to deliver a high-caliber performance such as Wilson’s. I had enough of Paltrow’s moping and Stiller’s stubbornness early into the film. While the characters are believable, the acting often isn’t. While his countenance shows disappointment and fatigue, Stiller is far too eager to spit out a bitter punch line. Fortunately, the acting didn’t detract too much from this great film.

Unlike most films with big-name ensemble casts, Tenenbaums doesn’t spend inordinate amounts of time on superfluous scenes or allow any actor to hog the screen. While I found Royal’s day in the city unnecessary, Paul Simon’s music made it bearable. With this exception, every scene tells us something about the characters or furthers the plot. Alec Baldwin’s voiceover narrative is enjoyable, and it allows Anderson to develop characters more often than develop plot. I would like to see more of this in big budget films.

I expected nothing less from one of my favorite directors. Wilson’s co-writing makes The Royal Tenenbaums better than any of Anderson’s previous films. It was refreshing to see a film that accurately portrayed the way people deal with one another. At the same time, the film doesn’t force feed any morals; I had to ponder the point of the movie. After watching the film, I felt as if I had read a good play or novel. Tenenbaums made me think and feel, and it had none of the insulting gaudiness of other Hollywood films.

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