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on March 28, 2005
Wes Anderson's "The Royal Tenenbaums" exists on a knife edge between comedy and sadness. There are big laughs, and then quiet moments when we're touched. Sometimes we grin at the movie's deadpan audacity. The film doesn't want us to feel just one set of emotions. It's the story of a family who at times could have been created by P.G. Wodehouse, and at other times by John Irving. And it's proof that Anderson and his writing partner, the actor Owen Wilson, have a gift of cockeyed genius.

The Tenenbaums occupy a big house in a kind of dreamy New York. It has enough rooms for each to hide and nurture a personality incompatible with the others. Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman), the patriarch, left home abruptly some years before and has been living in a hotel, on credit, ever since. There was never actually a divorce. His wife Etheline (Anjelica Huston) remains at home with their three children, who were all child prodigies and have grown into adult neurotics. There's Chas (Ben Stiller), who was a financial whiz as a kid; Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow), who was adopted, and won a big prize for writing a school play, and Richie (Luke Wilson), once a tennis champion.

All three come with various partners, children and friends. The most memorable are Raleigh St. Clair (Bill Murray), a bearded intellectual who has been married to Margot for years but does not begin to know her; Eli Cash (Owen Wilson), who lived across the street, became like a member of the family, and writes best-selling Westerns that get terrible reviews; Henry Sherman (Danny Glover), who was Etheline's accountant for 10 years until they suddenly realized they were in love, and such satellites as Pagoda (Kumar Pallana), Royal's faithful servant (who once in India tried to murder Royal and then rescued him from ... himself ...) and the bellboy Dusty (Seymour Cassel), who impersonates a doctor when Royal fakes a fatal illness.

Trying to understand the way this flywheel comedy tugs at the heartstrings, I reflected that eccentricity often masks deep loneliness. All the Tenenbaums are islands entire of themselves. Consider that Margot has been a secret smoker since she was 12. Why bother? Nobody else in the family cares, and when they discover her deception they hardly notice. Her secrecy was part of her own strategy to stand outside the family, to have something that was her own.

One of the pleasures of the movie is the way it keeps us a little uncertain about how we should be reacting. It's like a guy who seems to be putting you on, and then suddenly reveals himself as sincere, so you're stranded out there with an inappropriate smirk. You can see this quality on screen in a lot of Owen Wilson's roles--in the half-kidding, half-serious way he finds out just how far he can push people.

The movie's strategy of doubling back on its own emotions works mostly through the dialogue. Consider a sort of brilliant dinner-table conversation where Royal tells the family he has cancer, they clearly don't believe him (or care), he says he wants to get to know them before he dies, the bitter Chas says he's not interested in that, and Royal pulls out all the stops by suggesting they visit their grandmother. Now watch how it works. Chas and Richie haven't seen her since they were 6. Margot says piteously that she has never met her. Royal responds not with sympathy but with a slap at her adopted status: "She wasn't your real grandmother." See how his appeal turns on a dime into a cruel put-down? Anderson's previous movies were "Bottle Rocket" (1996) and "Rushmore" (1998), both offbeat comedies, both about young people trying to outwit institutions. Anderson and the Wilson brothers met at the University of Texas, made their first film on a shoestring, have quickly developed careers, and share a special talent. (That Owen Wilson could co-write and star in this, and also star in the lugubrious "Behind Enemy Lines," is one of the year's curiosities.) Like the Farrelly brothers, but kinder and gentler, they follow a logical action to its outrageous conclusion.

Consider, for example, what happens after Royal gets bounced out of his latest hotel and moves back home. His wife doesn't want him and Chas despises him (for stealing from his safety deposit box), so Royal stealthily moves in with a hospital bed, intravenous tubes, private medical care, and Seymour Cassel shaking his head over the prognosis. When this strategy is unmasked, he announces he wants to get to know his grandkids better--wants to teach them to take chances. So he instructs Chas' kids in shoplifting, playing in traffic and throwing things at taxicabs.

"The Royal Tenenbaums" is at heart profoundly silly, and loving. That's why it made me think of Wodehouse. It stands in amazement as the Tenenbaums and their extended family unveil one strategy after another to get attention, carve out space, and find love. It doesn't mock their efforts, dysfunctional as they are, because it understands them--and sympathizes.
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on May 2, 2002
... but not in the sense that is usually used. Some people absolutly love his movies, while others really don't care much at all. It's not to say that either side is right or wrong, its just a conflict of interests. Those who don't like Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, or this film, are not in any way inferior/superior to a person like myself, but, those who are smug and almost happy to tell you how bad this movie is... shame on you.
Well, this is easily my favourite film of last year, along with Memento and Waking Life, because of it's rich use of atmosphere. This is a film about lost time, lost childhood, lost chances... really it's about losing those things which are important, and getting them back, and that is the reason that alot of the imagery is, umm.... retro. This is a running theme in all of Anderson's movies, the idea of reclaiming your past by bringing it along with you into the future. All the objects in the movie hold sentimental value to the characters (we never really learn what the particular sentiments are, which is part of the allure of the "sight gag") and gives the characters a past and, more importantly, a neural net of their opinions, beliefs, emotions etc, just by displaying their possessions.
The performances are usually critisized as being highly exagerated- well i hate to break it to you but that's really the whole point of the movie. The Tenenbaum family are eccentrics, the type of family you would latch onto like a satilite because you are attracted to their behavour, and Owen Anderson's character is a representation of the audience in that respect. If this family was what you would call "average", they wouldn't be interesting. Of course alot of movies have the set up of a normal guy in an extraordinary situation, but not every movie has to be that way.
Some of the reviewers who have given this movie a low score have cited that it "fails as black comedy". Well that's interesting since Anderson himself dosn't consider his movies comedies anyways. Sure there are funny moments, but they are by no means as exagerated as the film's characters are. The comedy is understated: there are no cheap tricks to make you laugh. One of my favourite moments in the movie is when Royal and the indian "butler" are in the game closet talking, and then it's revealed they are drinking martinis- dosn't sound funny in words, but for me it's very touching and highly comical. This isn't slapstick, but humour of a more gentle kind, like in Monsiur Hulots Holliday.
The acting is superb by Hackman and Houston, and immediatly convinces the audience of their characters histories. I feel this was Hackman's finest performance since The Conversation, in a career which, i feel as well, has been utterly underappreciated. Luke Wilson, Gwenneth Paltro are both fine in their own rights, and Ben Stiller -who practicly everyone hates in this movie- plays his character wonderfully: A boy who breeded mice with spots and ran a lucrative company at the age of 12, a father who is frightend of losing his children to accidents and hates his own father for reasons he can't articulate- Stiller personifies this beautifully. All the negative reviewers seem to have forgotten that for all their critisism, they "bought" them all as a family, as unrealisticly exagerated as they are, even though in real life they are all polar opposites. Bad acting?? These people have no idea of the subtleties involved in the performances. I also think that Bill Murray's performance as the psychologist is brilliant. Danny Glover plays his part with just the right amount of understatement, and equally fitting with the other actors. Alec Baldwin's dry narative is extra extra dry.
This movie just cries for a repeated viewing after repeated viewing, and has similarities to Joyce's Ulysses in the sense that there are treasures hidden within- seek and ye shall find.
If only you appreciate the beauty of the colours, this movie is worth the money to watch it, and i applaud Hollywood for forgetting its loyalties to the sausage industry for just a few brief moments.
Damn the academy, this is the best picture of the year.
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on May 13, 2002
16 pages of Amazon reviews relating to The Royal Tenenbaums ranging from hatred to awe suggests something interesting is going on with this one of a kind movie.
After seeing the movie more than a month ago, I started recounting some of the more emotional moments in the film as I sat with my wife in a shopping mall eating a souvlaki. I actually found that I was getting choked up just describing the moments and my wife looked blankly at me.
"Is this a mid-life crisis or something?"
She liked the film, but couldn't believe that it had emotionally effected me to the extent that it had.
"This has probably got something to do with your family, you know."
Possibly. But it might also have something to do with a film which on the surface seems to present an artificial and childlike story about an unusual family but underneath captured some illuminating truths about the human condition.
I obviously liked the film because I gave it 5 stars and l am looking forward to spending the rest of my life trying to figure out why.
I can understand why many people disliked it so much but I am fascinated with the concept that I have little idea why I love it.
The Royal Tenenbaums is the reason that I go to the movies. I want to be surprised and engaged in a fictional world where I am taken to a place that I have never been before. And there is no place like the Royal Tenenbaum's.
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I loved this film, but I can completely understand many, many people not enjoying it. In fact, I was one of the few people, it seems, who disliked Anderson's second film, RUSHMORE (though I loved BOTTLE ROCKET, Wes Anderson's first film). The reason that so many will either love or hate this film is Anderson continually skirts the edges of cinematic convention. There is a great deal of subtlety in his work, and one will either enjoy that and analyze it, or find that it leaves them bored and disinterested.
Anderson wrote this screenplay with he usual screenwriting partner, Owen Wilson (who played Eli, the Tennenbaums across-the-street neighbor). The screenplay is filled with many wonderful and marvelous moments, and while one might complain that the whole is less than the summation of the parts, the parts are nonetheless very exquisite. The film is stuffed with marvelous moments that are almost throwaways, like a scene in which Chas (Ben Stiller) and his father Royal (Gene Hackman) escape to a closet to argue. The closet is filled with every board game one can possibly imagine, which provides a startling contrast by implying that there was a time when the family perhaps sat around together playing these precise games. Or when one of the characters attempts suicide and then leaves the hospital, a haunting, gorgeous song by Nick Drake, "Fly" is played. The song is a marvelous paean to second chances, and many of the lyrics seem to refer to specific moments in the film. But what is more poignant is the fact that Drake is one of rock's most celebrated suicides, albeit primarily to his cult following. Another detail is the fact that every cab that is seen in the entire film are "Gypsy Cabs" and are the most dilapidated, battered cabs one can imagine.
The soundtrack is exquisite, and one that even those not enjoying the movie would be tempted to buy. The selections are marvelous, whether it is Ravel's String Quartet, or the Ramones, or the Clash, or Lou Reed, or the Stones. One word of complaint, however. As a Stones fan and as one who owned vinyl versions of most of their albums, and the two Stones songs that Luke Wilson and Gwenyth Paltrow listen to in his tent are not the songs that are on the actual vinyl album. "Ruby Tuesday," for instance, is not the second cut but the third, and the song that appears first is actually a couple of cuts after "Ruby Tuesday."
The cast is absolutely first rate, though many of the actors are playing roles that are somewhat at odds with what we normally expect of them. This is especially true of the three Tennenbaum children.
So, while I expect that many people seeing this will dislike it, many others will enjoy it thoroughly. If you liked BOTTLE ROCKET or RUSHMORE, odds are you will like this one as well.
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on April 10, 2002
I'm a Wes Anderson fan and "The Royal Tenenbaums" was my favorite movie of the year.
(just for a reference, the others were "Hedwig & the Angry Inch," "Ali," "The Man Who Wasn't There," and "Training Day," and Ken Burns "Jazz" and "The Sopranos: Season 3," both of which may have been on TV but are of a scope and caliber far beyond most multiplex efforts)
But "The Royal Tenenbaums" took me a while. It took me two viewings to fully appreciate the "Tenenbaums," and a third to convince me I loved it.
This is a rich movie, full of detail that initially moved too fast for me to absorb. It was only after I was able to watch the film without wondering where it was going and what was going to happen that I was able to sit back and fully appreciate it. There's a lot of quirkiness here, and that gives the whole thing a feeling of insincerity, but this is not an insincere film.
Many critics have pointed out that this movie is like a lot of other things; they mention Dickens, John Irving, Salinger, and Louise Fitzhugh and "The Magnificent Ambersons." And all of those comparisons are true.
But what really struck me about the film, personally, is that so much of it didn't remind me of anything else. The open credit sequence, for example, fills my heart with joy, just the way all the characters are introduced in a stylised yet somehow naturalistic way. You have to love a movie (or at least *I* have to love a movie) in which characters' introductions include their book jackets.
There's also the Gene Hackman aspect. I'm a huge Hackman fan but he works so often and in so many different directions it's sometimes hard to remember what makes him so distinctive. In this movie, it's all on display. He is truly inspired. The fact that he was ignored by the Academy means that I don't have to take anything they say seriously, ever again.
Also, the scenes set in Eli Cash's apartment gave me more laughter than any comedy I've seen since "Kingpin." And the scene, near the end, in the ambulance (set to Nico's "Fairest of Seasons") made me genuinely sadder than any recent movie I can think of.
This is not a particularly easy movie. But if work with it a little, it definitely grows on you.
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on June 27, 2002
Wes Anderson's third film, "The Royal Tenenbaums," is nothing short of amazing and was easily the best film of 2001. Why it wasn't nominated for more than Best Original Screenplay at this year's Oscars is beyond me. The same went for his sophomore effort (and what I feel is his best film of the three) "Rushmore."
One of many of Anderson's gifts lies in his appreciation of and ability to identify deadpan humor. My three favorite moments of the film are when Richie suffers a breakdown at his tennis match and tosses his racquet at the returned ball he lightly served over the net in the first place, when Chas holds a mock fire drill and tells his boys that they all would have died, including their dog, because it took them four and a half minutes to get out of the house, and when Raleigh St. Clair replies to the question "Can the boy tell time?" with "Heavens, no."
He also has the uncanny ability of accompanying his films with the perfect music (though he has been ostracized for not including certain songs that appear in his films on the actual soundtrack.) He did it in "Rushmore" with British Invasion songs and he doesn't falter here. The absolute best moment of the film (in a depressing, psychotic kind of way) is when Richie attempts to kill himself by slicing his wrists. The reason for this wholly rests on the fact that the entire montage was accompanied by Elliot Smith's haunting song "Needle in the Hay."
The other reason Anderson gets good marks is because of the fabulous ensemble cast. Gene Hackman, Anjelica Huston, Danny Glover, Gwyneth Paltrow, Bill Murray, Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson and Luke Wilson are all at their best here.
Kudos to everyone involved in this film; it is sure to gain classic status years from now. A worthy addition to anyone's DVD collection.
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VINE VOICEon July 15, 2002
This movie does something very rare. Throughout the first act, and into the second, it comes across as somewhat detached and disaffected. I was intrigued by the characters and the lives they lead, but felt like an outsider to their world. By the end of the film, I was moved to tears and felt that I really understood these people. How this was accomplished in 110 minutes, I can't say for sure. But I've revisited the film several times as a result.
Simply put, this film is so rich in detail it truly rewards repeat viewings. While not always "laugh out loud funny," it never loses its sense of humor. Often absurdist humor, which is one of the things I love about it.
Music plays an important role in this movie, as it seems Wes Anderson has a knack for matching the right song for any given scene. I never thought I'd hear the Velvet Underground's "Stephanie Says" used so perfectly (actually, I never expected to hear it in a movie at all). Anderson is right up there with directors like Martin Scorsese and Spike Lee in the ability to complement and enhance a scene with a song.
I don't want to get into a laundry list of all the great things about this film; that has been sufficiently covered by many other reviewers. This is a film where all the elements came together just right and lightning struck.
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on February 1, 2002
After viewing the film "The Royal Tenenbaums" I left the theater in an odd state of mind. And after digesting the film a little while, something one MUST do after watching a Wes Anderson/Owen Wilson film, I've concluded it as the best comedy of the year and one of the top five films of the year (and the same thing happend when I viewed the film "Rushmore" a few years earlier). Then I decided to check what other people thought of the film and came onto to read people's reviews. I was very distraught with what I read, not so much because people disliked the film (some people, I should not lump ALL people in this category; there are SOME innovative filmgoers amongst you all) but because of why they didn't. People complained that there were no laughs to be had. Granted, there are not belly laughs and guffaws to be had at "Tenenbaums," but this should be expected considering how "Rushmore" was set up and executed. Wes Anderson and his writing partner do not go for the cheap laughs and the slapstick sight gags that make so many current movies the cheap, raunch fare that they are. Being a writer myself I've come to realize that there is much more to comedy than making a person jiggle with laughter. In fact, no where in the definition of the term "comedy" is the word "laugh" used. Comedy deals with a general feeling it bestows upon an audience member. One of humor and affection (be it dark or otherwise).
Anyway, to get back to the point, "The Royal Tenenbaums" is solely structured on giving off a feeling of comedy while also playing for more psychological and emotional connections with it's audience. I will openly admit I laughed outloud less than ten times throughout the film (although when I did laugh, it was very well deserved). I did, however, have a smile on my face throughout the ENTIRE thing. And that's what comedy, at least one designed like this one, is meant to do. I commend Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson for making such a remarkably structured film and reccommend it to anyone who has the desire to see the "Thinking Man's Comedy."
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on May 17, 2004
Wes Anderson has cemented his reputation as one of the premier directors of his generation with this finely crafted film.
Superb acting and cinematography are often coupled to create incredibly emotional sequences. A great example is Luke Wilson and Gwyneth Paltrow's reunification after many years apart. Wilson's awkward posture and Paltrow's hazy longing are emphasized beautifully with a mesmerizing slow motion shot that speaks more clearly about their relationship than even the best dialogue ever could. This is but one example of many. Every actor in this film delivers a top-notch performance and camera work is frequently unconventional yet stunningly effective.
Each member of the Tenenbaum family is carefully developed and as the film progresses the complex web of relationships that is present within any family subtly emerge. This however, is no ordinary family. Success came to easily for the Tenenbaum's and it served as precursor to failure. The Tenenbaum children are defined by their inability to handle their shortcomings and the film's dark comedy finds its source in their respective dysfuctions.
Many reviewers have commented that this movie is intellectually over-indulgent. This may be true. While there are a few bits of slapstick comedy (mostly revolving around Ben Stiller's character) the movie's strength lies in its depth. Watch this film twice and chances are you'll see things you missed the first time. You don't have to be a genius to "get" this movie but you do have to invest yourself a bit. Do so and you're likely to find yourself smiling.
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The Tenenbaums are a family of individuals who create a family. They are separate but trying to come together.

Royal Tenebaums played by Gene hackman, left the family many years ago for reasons unknown, even to him. His wife, Etheline, played superbly by Anjelica Houston, is the thread that keeps the family together. Sons, Chas played by Ben Stiller, Richie, played by Luke Wilson, and adopted daughter, Margot, played by Gwenyth Paltrwow, are a mixed lot. All appear to be depressed, and they all move home again. The house is large, descripit but large. Chas brings his two sons, all grieving the loss of their mother. Margot leaves her husband, psychologist, Raleigh, played by Bill Murray. Their next door neighbor, Eli, played by Owen Wilson, is a successful author of westerns, which garner terrible reviews. Royal comes home, saying he is dying of cancer. No one seems to care much, but he is trying to mend fences. This is at once a comedy and a dramedy. Laugh out loud and then morose. All are seeking attention, and the ploys that are used are astounding.

We can all find a bit of us in these characters and how they react. Every family is like this in many ways. Now, we see it upfront and personal on the big screen.

Highly Recommended. prisrob 08-28-12

The Darjeeling Limited

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