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    The Royal Tenebaums

    Oh Tenenbaums, oh Tenenbaums

    "The Royal Tenenbaums," by the maker of "Rushmore," is another painfully funny look at lives that have lost their glimmer.


    (Originally reviewed at the New York Film Festival in October 2001.)

    A few years back, Wes Anderson made a big splash with "Rushmore," the hysterically funny story of a high-school overachiever who peaked too early to handle his life, got into a lot of trouble, had his ego broken down, and then found a way to make his life and the lives around him better. His new film, "The Royal Tenenbaums," picks up on that same theme of genius gone wrong in search of redemption and expands it to include an entire family's story. Using some of the same formal elements that made "Rushmore" so enjoyable to watch, Anderson shows with "Tenenbaums" that he's found a cinematic style that not only works visually, but allows him and co-writer Owen Wilson to show their incredible knack for comedy. "The Royal Tenenbaums" is a laugh riot.

    Directed by: Wes Anderson.
    Written by: Wes Anderson, Owen Wilson.
    Cast: Gene Hackman, Anjelica Huston, Gwyneth Paltrow, Owen Wilson, Luke Wilson, Ben Stiller, Bill Murray, Danny Glover, Al Thompson, voice of Alec Baldwin..

    Related links: Official site
    New York Film Festival 2001

    All About Lily Chou-Chou
    Blue Wild Angel
    La Cienaga
    Fat Girl
    The Royal Tenenbaums
    Mulholland Drive
    Sobibor, October 14, 1943, 4 p.m.
    Waking Life
    Va Savoir
    Y Tu Mama Tambien
    The Tenenbaum family has inhabited a beautiful three-story brownstone in what looks like the Upper West Side since their three "genius children," Chas (Ben Stiller), Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow), and Richie (Luke Wilson) were born approximately 30 years ago. Gene Hackman plays Royal Tenenbaum, the patriarch of the family, who has been living in an exile imposed both by his children and his wife Etheline (Angelica Huston) for his numerous, egregiously bad habits over the years.

    The Tenenbaum children have, like Max Fischer in "Rushmore," all lost the glimmer on their successful young lives over the years. {Playwright Margot hasn't published in years, tennis star Richie has lost his game, and businessman Chas has turned into obsessive/compulsive about his children's safety since losing his wife in a car accident. After years of excess and a ruthless zeal for living, Royal Tenenbaum, also finds himself out of the limelight, out of money and out of luck. The news that his wife has found a new suitor (Danny Glover) galvanizes Royal and makes him determined to regain control of his family's world.

    What starts out as a play for power, however, becomes a quest for redemption for Royal, and his story becomes fused with each of his children's own desire for self-redemption and an ability to continue their forever overly-complicated lives. To accomplish redemption, the Tenenbaums must each first begin to recognize their faults and their bizarre ways of seeing the world, before they can begin to understand and forgive one another; but understanding any part of the world outside of their own narrow focus is frighteningly difficult for these geniuses raised in "royalty."

    Anderson's direction and the performances he can elicit from his actors is fantastic. In "Rushmore," audiences were often shocked by the seldom-seen subtlety of Bill Murray's performance and Anderson's ability to harness that great actor's best assets. In "Tenenbaums," Anderson receives incredible work from Hackman, Luke Wilson, Paltrow, Ben Stiller and repeat offender Bill Murray (who plays Margot's gentle, cuckolded older-man husband), who all perform brilliantly. Anderson's characters are so gleefully serious in their behavior, either somehow oblivious or just incredibly comfortable with the hyperbole in their lives, that the actors in the film become free to elevate their performances and create real, somehow believable people out of totally dysfunctional characters. Anderson seems to cast actors that we can believe, who maybe do play a certain type, but then asks them to go farther with that type than they would have dared before. The results are fresh, new looks at actors from whom we thought we'd seen all they had.

    The structural and stylistic elements that began to emerge in "Rushmore" also add a terrific dimension to Tenenbaums. Recalling "Rushmore's" yearbook sequence, Anderson starts the film off with an expanded, hilarious prologue introducing the young geniuses and documenting their rise to fame and the insane treatment they were afforded by their father. (In fact, throughout the movie, the text fonts on the screen, as well as in the set scenery, are all the same, familiar sans-serif font first seen in the Rushmores.) A new feature is the way the narrative is broken up into chapters, with shots of the chapter titles and openings, all taken from a book with the film's title. The look of the pages and little woodcut drawings at each chapter title gives the feel of a stylized children's story and may lend some weight to the rumor that Anderson had Salinger's "Franny and Zooey" in mind while writing. Perhaps the flavor of the story — the Manhattan setting, the intellectual makeup, the familial moral playground — would all give a nod in F&Z's direction, but "The Royal Tenenbaums'" detailing and the characters' comic complexities portrayed by the actors add up to a brand-new story that stands on its own, to be enjoyed in the same tradition as Salinger, but also Tom Wolfe and Woody Allen.

    For the uninitiated, "Tenenbaums" will make you want to rent both "Rushmore" and Anderson's first collaboration with Owen Wilson, "Bottle Rocket." You'll see how Anderson's comedy has expanded in the three films. Like comparing an old Season One episode of "The Simpsons" to a newer one, the difference is that "The Royal Tenenbaums" is relentlessly funny. Where in previous work Anderson allowed for seriousness devoid of laughter, "The Royal Tenenbaums" disposes with the idea that laughter and exposition or drama are all mutually exclusive; instead, every line of dialogue, every shot of the camera, every costume, and every bit of background scenery is well crafted into a comedy machine that makes the viewer want to laugh at every turn.

    OCTOBER 11, 2001

    Reader comments on The Royal Tenebaums:

  • agree with Frank   from JEB, Jan 3, 2002
  • Agree with Frank, almost agree with JEB   from Sylvie, Mar 13, 2002
  • this is not a comedy   from Ethan, Jan 7, 2002
  • Re: this is not a comedy   from Meg, Jan 22, 2002
  • I disagree with the this is not a comedy   from Chrik, Jan 11, 2002
  • I disagree with your disgreement   from Ethan, Jan 13, 2002
  • It stinks   from Steve, Jan 19, 2002
  • Re: It stinks   from Derek, Jan 1, 2004
  • Boring   from Johndie, Jan 20, 2002
  • Re: Boring   from wilfred richards, Jun 12, 2003
  • Ever follow the life of a lottery winner?   from Leon, Jan 20, 2002
  • laugh or cry - great discussion   from FV, Feb 8, 2002
  • Re: laugh or cry - great discussion   from Sylvie, Mar 6, 2002
  • Re: laugh or cry - great discussion   from fv, Mar 8, 2002
  • Re: laugh or cry - great discussion   from Sylvie, Mar 8, 2002
  • Stupifying and Dull   from Pete, Feb 24, 2002
  • Beagle fans stay away....   from Larry, Jul 27, 2002
  • Re: Beagle fans stay away....   from Willy, Sep 29, 2002
  • Re: Beagle fans stay away....   from kofuzi, Oct 7, 2002
  • quality   from sean, May 15, 2003
  • Re: Beagle fans stay away....   from LOLA, Nov 25, 2003
  • Re: Stupifying and Dull   from Team Thelema, Dec 31, 2002
  • Re: Stupifying and Dull   from Bruno, Jan 24, 2003
  • Re: Stupifying and Dull   from James, Jan 12, 2004
  • i liked it very much   from frenchgirl, Jun 30, 2002
  • Paintings   from Brian Magee, Feb 4, 2003
  • Re: Paintings   from , Mar 7, 2003
  • The Music   from Tim, Feb 15, 2003
  • Re: The Music   from asdd, Apr 26, 2006
  • i love it   from dawgmonkey82, Apr 14, 2003
  • IT'S AWESOME!   from roxyjules, Jun 8, 2003
  • Re: IT'S AWESOME!   from mightym0us, Jun 12, 2003
  • The best movie ever created   from Caitlin, Aug 7, 2003
  • Re: The best movie ever created???? What?   from Phil, Aug 10, 2003
  • Chas's wife died in a plane accident!!   from john stewart, Nov 1, 2003
  • Music makes the movie   from adam mason, Feb 4, 2004
  • It sticks   from sylvie, Jun 17, 2004
  • AMAZING   from Ryan Conlon "the king", Nov 25, 2004
  • well i feel sheepish   from Rophy, Sep 13, 2005

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