The Royal Tenenbaums

cast: Ben Stiller, Angelica Houston, Gene Hackman, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Bill Murray

director: Wes Anderson

110 minutes (R) 2001
Touchstone DVD Region 1 rental

RATING: 9/10
reviewed by Amy C. Adair

The Royal Tenenbaums stars a multi-talented ensemble cast featuring actors usually thought of as comedic (Ben Stiller, Bill Murray) as well as those best known for more dramatic roles (Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelica Houston, Gene Hackman). The movie is a kind of drama with quirky bits thrown in that adds a comedic flair.
The story is a complex portrayal of relationships in the Tenenbaum family. As the aptly titled book written by Houston’s character, Etheline Tenenbaum, suggests, they are a family of geniuses. Her three offspring all accomplished their peaks as children: Chas (Stiller) in finance and real estate, Margot (Paltrow) as a playwright, and Ritchie (Luke Wilson) as tennis pro. Their father, Royal Tenenbaum (Hackman), left when they were young, and all three have issues with him. Royal stole savings bonds from a teenage Chas as well as shooting him with a BB gun, and Margot was introduced as his adopted daughter and never treated as a ‘real’ child. Royal’s favourite was Ritchie, who worships his father blindly; no matter what pain he causes the rest of the family.
The action resumes 22 years later when all three children decide to move back into their mother’s house because of personal conflicts. Chas’ wife died in a tragic plane crash, leaving him with two young boys. He becomes single-minded in his quest to keep them safe. Margot is married to Raleigh St. Clair (Murray), but this relationship is troubled because she is extremely secretive with everyone in her life. Ritchie ruined his tennis career by blowing a big match. He retired to mourn and brood about his strange love for adopted sister, Margot. Add into this absurd mix of characters childhood friend and psychedelic drug-guzzling author Eli Cash (Owen Wilson), accountant and suitor to Etheline, Henry (Danny Glover), Royal’s devoted servant, Pagoda, and the return of a broke and manipulative Royal. What ensues is the often-touching story of a family trying to figure out what they mean to each other, and what being a family is really about.
From the DVD extras, audiences get to see Wes (Rushmore) Anderson’s often neurotic strive to get every detail of the film exactly the way it was envisioned. But all this focusing on the small stuff pays off, as the film’s mood is clear throughout, and it may leave you in the world of the Tenenbaums for hours after the film has ended. The soundtrack by former Devo member and Nickelodeon cartoon show (Rugrats) creator is breathy, and almost becomes a character unto itself in many instances. Both the music and the setting add to the feeling that the film is over-the-top, but in a good way.
My one real criticism of this movie is that there are so many powerful actors and well developed characters that it leaves you wanting to see more from all of them. But maybe this is a good thing, as I kept thinking about them long after I had finished watching the movie.
DVD extras: two deleted scenes, scrapbook with mural drawings by Wes Anderson’s brother, a strange but entertaining ‘interview’ with some of the extra cast members, real interviews with the leading actors, Independent Film Channel portrait of Wes Anderson.