The Royal Tenenbaums

royal-tenenbaums-poster“The past six days have been the best six days of probably my whole life.”

The Scoop: 2001 R, directed by Wes Anderson and starring Gene Hackman, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Stiller, and Owen Wilson

Tagline: You Are Invited To A Remarkable Family Gathering.

Summary Capsule: The squandered potential of an upper class family of geniuses gets one last chance at redemption when the deadbeat dad, the architect of their woes, attempts to win his back into the fold.

Kyle’s Rating: Maybe if I lived in New York, all would be revealed Magic 8-ball style

Kyle’s Review: I so looked forward to this film. Rushmore was a magical viewing experience for me, and that had Bill Murray as its lone ace in the hole. This movie has loads of talent, so logically it should be loads better than Rushmore. Loads and loads better! Unfortunately, being loaded with talent never guarantees greatness. In the case of The Royal Tenenbaums, it only guarantees watchability. The rest is up to you.

Essentially, this is the story of an extraordinary family in New York. We see the incredible childhoods of the three Tenenbaum kids, and immediately experience the rascally nature of their father, Royal. One son is a financial genius, the other is a tennis ace, and their adopted daughter is a gifted playwright. But when Royal and his wife Ethyl get divorced and Royal mostly drops out of his kids’ lives, strangeness sets in. Though it was kinda there in the first place.

22 years pass and stuff happens, then events occur that guide Royal back into the fold of his family and quirkiness sets in. Telling you any more would ruin the surprise. 75% of the fun here is not having a clue what the next scene holds, so just be prepared for wackiness and you should enjoy yourself.

I’m not sure this is one for the movie cabinet (at least not mine), though it’s definitely worth a viewing. If Rushmore was your cup of tea then you’ll dig this for sure. And really, you should give it a try because it’s a quality piece of bizarre drama, and they sure don’t make too many like this in the mainstream. At least not with a quality cast like this. If nothing else, it will give you and your movie-monkey crew some stuff to talk about. Here’s a sample topic: should Alec Baldwin handle all voice-overs in all future films? Discuss!

Basically (unless I’m wrong) this is a story about lost, wasted, and/or misplaced potential, and it’s such a twisted and odd take on the lives of the Tenenbaum family that it just feels like real life. With even the outdoor scenes feeling cramped and boxed in, I got the impression that this would be a perfect play and I wondered just how it would hold up on-stage. I still have no idea, but as a student of drama I must say this is a fine example of a deeply personal vision. It may not be art, but I like it!

PoolMan’s Rating: Thank goodness for family… that shoots you.

PoolMan’s Review: Man. Sometimes you just can’t win. I went to a dinner with friends a few weekends back, and was asked, along with the host, to hit the video store and pick something out. I needed a movie suitable for three guys and three girls for a Saturday night barbecue, complete with beer. I looked at the likes of Men In Black and Analyze This (I swear, my buddy Ryan must have a crush on Robert De Niro… he must have picked up every box in the place with De Niro’s picture on it), but no, I figure it’s time to challenge this group. Let’s get something that’ll make us all think. Something with a quirky sense of humour. Something with an ensemble cast, and maybe a little foreign man in pink pants.

The Royal Tenenbaums is and has all these things, to be sure. It’s another intellectual comedy from Wes Anderson, creator of the excellent Rushmore. The real key here is the use of intellect. For a generation of youngsters being fed the toilet humour crap of Not Another Teen Movie, this will be a bewildering waste of time. Not one person ingests a bodily fluid, and although there IS some nudity, it’s regrettably tasteful. However, for those who are willing to slow down and ponder things through and enjoy a dramatic character comedy, there are some great rewards.

For starters, Gene Hackman is a hell of a guy. I don’t know why, but something about him always leaves me with a positive shine on whatever I see him do. His role as Royal is just fantastic. He walks the finest of lines, playing a character you know full well you should hate, but somehow end up caring for. He forgoes the “charming curmudgeon” cliche, and instead presents his character as a guy who sees nothing wrong with the screwed up way he treats his life and the people in it. I personally chuckled when he shot Chas in the hand with a BB gun, even though they were on the same team in their game.

And the rest of this cast isn’t far behind. Paltrow shows great restraint in her utterly flat character (no pun intended), constantly moodless to the point of humour. Luke and Owen Wilson are both here as wildly differing scales of insanity, and Ben Stiller’s frustrated Chas starts out as a mystifying jerk, but ends up being the most balanced of the Tenebaum children. And I’d be remiss to leave out Bill Murray as Margot’s husband, Raleigh. One of the best laughs in the whole movie is his reaction to a detective’s report on his wife’s infidelity. Even Danny Glover gets an understated turn here as the “new man” courting Etheline.

There’s too much here to describe. I could go on and on talking about the minutiae that make The Royal Tenenbaums so funny. Royal’s manservant, Pagoda, cracked me up every time he hit the screen. Unfortunately, the movie’s got a serious energy deficiency. Be set before you start watching, the pace is sloooooooow, and if you’re not prepared, you’ll be checking your watch. Near the middle, there’s a scene where Royal goes on a misfit rampage with his grandsons that injects some much needed juice into this flick, but just as quickly as it came, it went.

That’s ultimately why this wasn’t the best pick after all for our little barbecue. It’s a good movie, sure, but it wasn’t the kind of thing you’d really want for a quick get together. I’d definitely recommend a viewing: this movie is all kinds of thoughtful, funny, and smart. Just make sure you’re in the right headspace.

DnaError’s Rating: Taxis are better now, really.

DnaError’s Review: Melancholia is an underrated emotion. The “not sad yet not happy” woozy feeling of gray days and Nick Cave songs, spiced with a longing for better things, is one of my favorite emotional states. Melancholia is often ignored in favor of its more flashy brothers, Depression and Pity. It lacks the drama of a wail or tragic pathos. Melancholia is a quiet emotion, an emotion that sets itself up alone in the corner of a diner, sips strong coffee, and watches it rain outside. It’s suitable for introspection, reading, wistful pining, and sitting in the tub all day. Melancholia is so under-appreciated that when a movie arises that not only contains Melancholia, but indeed, celebrates it, I have to stand up and take notice.

The Royal Tenebaums contains all the elements of melancholy, right down to the tinkly piano music. (There hasn’t been a more mildly depressing yet uplifting song since the Charlie Brown Christmas music) It’s droll, knowing, whimsical and funny without ever provoking a belly laugh. It makes it difficult to love the movie, but perfect to curl up with on a lonely day. What makes it so affable, so lovable despite an air of gloominess, is the sympathetic treatment of the characters. The family of geniuses who have burned out their talent and survive with eggshell tin egos might have come off simply depressing. Yet Wes Anderson keeps it unpretentious and balanced, full of bittersweet laughs. Full of detail and intricate stylization, the movie is more book then..well..movie. Every scene is busting with the cutterly order of geniuses trapped in tiny apartments. Adding to it’s odd charm is the pitch-perfect direction of a world just slightly off-center. While some movies are boisterous old friends or relics from childhood, The Royal Tenebaums is that battered slim book on the edge of your shelf, the one you read from time to time, when the weather is gray and you need a companion in the diner.

Living life high on garbage truck fumes

Living life high on garbage truck fumes

Intermission!

  • Both Anjelica Huston and Gene Hackman turned down their roles until additional scenes providing more character depth were written specifically for them.
  • Brian Tenenbaum, who plays one of the paramedics, was a college friend of Wes Anderson and brothers Owen Wilson and Luke Wilson at the University of Texas. His name was used for the film and family because, says Anderson, “I just like the name.”
  • In every Wes Anderson film there is a shot of one or more of the characters underwater.
  • Owen Wilson’s character arrives to the wedding with a strange Indian paint design on his face. In the movie Zoolander (with Stiller), there is a fashion picture of Hansel (Owen Wilson) wearing the exact same Indian face paint.
  • This film doesn’t offer a positive viewpoint on public transportation, at least in New York. The cabs and the buses are not only rancid, they’re decayed and look like vehicles left over from Escape from New York.
  • In Rushmore, possibly because we weren’t aware of many of the actors involved other than Bill Murray, the humorous character quirks were really funny and really fresh. In this film, because we’ve seen these well-known actors and movie stars in other things, we have expectations for them and that kind of hampers the effectiveness of their potential “zaniness.” For example, Ben Stiller has been really funny in a slapstick kind of way in other films, so to see him mildly restrained and humorous in a totally different way is somewhat jarring. Ditto for most of the rest of the characters. The moral? Get unknowns to be quirky!
  • Face paint is always funny, as are tennis headbands.
  • I’m not sure how the dog got where he did under the car. According to physics, its location seems improbable
  • Drugs are bad. Drug humor is good. Discuss.
  • Alec Baldwin has a really cool and distinctive voice for voiceover work.
  • Every character has their own musical instrument associated with them on the soundtrack, a la Peter and the Wolf

Groovy Quotes

Eli: I always wanted to be a Tenenbaum.
Royal: Me too, me too.

Royal: I want to make this family love me. How much money you got?

Royal: Anyone want to get some cheeseburgers and hit the cemetery?
[Pagoda stabs Royal]
Royal: That’s the last time you put a knife in me! Y’hear me?

Young Margot: Are you getting a divorce?
Royal: Well, it doesn’t really look good.
Young Margot: Is it our fault?
Royal: Well, we had to make sacrifices in order to have children but no.

Richie: Did you say you were on Mescaline?
Eli: I did indeed. Very much so.

Royal: Oh, that’s right. We got another body buried here.

Eli: Well, everyone knows Custer died at Little Bighorn. What this book presupposes is… maybe he didn’t.

Eli: I’m not in love with you any more.
Margot: I didn’t ever know that you were.
Eli: Let’s not make this any more difficult than it already is.

Royal: I’m very sorry for your loss. Your mother was a terribly attractive woman.

Chas: Is it dark?
Richie: Of course it’s dark. It’s a suicide note.

Royal: I was wondering if you all would like to go visit your grandmother. You haven’t seen her in years.
Margot: I’ve never seen her.
Royal: Well, since you were adopted, I didn’t really know how interested you were in it.

[Royal motions to Pagoda]
Royal: He saved my life, you know. Thirty years ago. I was knifed at a bar in Calcutta, and he carried me to the hospital on his back.
Ari: Who stabbed you?
[Royal motions to Pagoda again]
Royal: He did. There was a price on my head, and he was a hired assassin. Stuck me in the gut with a shiv.

[After being thrown out of the house]
Royal: The past six days have been the best six days of probably my whole life.
Narrator: Immediately after making this statement, Royal realized that it was true.

Raleigh: [in a low voice into his tape recorder] Dudley has a rare disease combining symptoms of amnesia, dyslexia and color blindness, with an acute sense of hearing. My research-
Dudley: [shouting from two rooms away] I’m not color blind, am I?
Raleigh: [still in a low voice] I’m afraid you are.

[Chas shows up at Etheline’s house]
Chas: We got locked out of our apartment.
Etheline: Well, did you call a locksmith?
Chas: Uh huh.
Etheline: Well, I don’t understand. Did you pack your bags BEFORE you got locked out?

If you liked this movie, try these:

  • Rushmore
  • Flirting with Disaster
  • Home for the Holidays
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