The Royal Tenenbaums

Released:  2001

Cast:  Gene Hackman, Anjelica Huston, Bill Murray, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Stiller, Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, Danny Glover

Oscar Nominations:  Best Original Screenplay (Wes Anderson, Owen Wilson)

SUMMARY:  As children, the three Tenenbaum siblings were each prodigies in a different area.  Chas was a business wizard, running several successful companies; Margot (who was adopted, a fact which her father frequently reminds her of) was a renowned author, winning a grant for a play written in the ninth grade, and Richie is a tennis master.  Their father, Royal (Gene Hackman), prefers Richie to his other two children, which is made apparent to all of them.  Also frequently around the house is Eli Cash, Richie’s best friend who lives in the neighborhood.  However, Royal and his wife Etheline (Anjelica Huston) decide to separate while their children are still adolescents, and Royal becomes an infrequent part of their lives.  Twenty-two years after his departure, Royal is evicted from his hotel home for not paying his bill.  His children are also experiencing trouble.  Chas (Ben Stiller) has recently lost his wife in a plane crash, and has thus become very overprotective of his two sons, Ari and Uzi.  Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow) is married to neurologist Raleigh St. Clair (Bill Murray), but the union is unhappy, and Margot spends most of her time smoking in the bathroom (though she has been smoking since the age of twelve, nobody in her family, including her husband, know of the habit).  Richie was the greatest tennis player in the world until he abruptly had a breakdown and left the sport; he is currently sailing aimlesslessly on a cruise ship.  Richie also has a secret:  he is in love with his adopted sister Margot, a fact which he shares with Eli via letter.  The only member of the family who is relatively happy is Etheline, whose lifelong accountant, Henry Sherman (Danny Glover) has just proposed to her.  Even though he and Etheline have been separated for more than 20 years, when Royal learns of the proposal he is determined to win her back.  He claims that he has stomach cancer, and at Richie’s request moves back into Etheline’s house.  All of the children also come home for various reasons, but the reunion is not happy:  Chas and Margot both have a lot of anger towards Royal for the way he treated them (or ignored them) when they were children and adults.  Royal quickly comes to the conclusion that Chas is stifling his sons with his protectiveness, so he sneaks the two out of the house with them, and all three go on a petty crime spree.

Meanwhile, Margot learns that Richie is in love with her, and is scolded by her father for the way she treats her husband.  For his part, Raleigh believes that Margot is having an affair, and with Richie’s help hires a private investigator to watch her.  As all of this is going on, Henry becomes suspicious of Royal’s behavior and begins investigating.  He learns that Royal faked the stomach cancer, and is popping candy instead of pills.  Etheline and the children are upset and angry, and Royal moves out.  Richie and Raleigh finally receive the report on Margot, including her background, and are stunned to learn that she is somewhat promiscuous, and smokes.  Richie is incredibly upset by the news (the promiscuity, not the smoking), and tries to kill himself.  At the hospital, Raleigh and Margot agree to split up; when Richie comes home that night, Margot confesses that she loves him too.  However, she states that the two might just have to be secretly in love for the rest of their lives.  Without any means of support, Royal has taken a job, and has started to have revelations about his previous life, particularly Etheline and the children.  He decides to finally give Etheline a divorce, and she and Henry quickly decide to get married.  Unfortunately, before the ceremony can take place, Eli, who has been revealed to be a drug addict, crashes his car into the front of the house.  Royal pulls Ari and Uzi out of the path of danger, but their dog is killed.  When Chas learned that his sons were almost killed he chases Eli through the Tenenbaum house and that of the neighbors.  Eventually, both exhausted men agree that they need counseling.  The event does serve to reconcile Chas and his father, since Royal saved the boys and then promptly bought a Dalmatian from the first responders as a gift for the boys.  Etheline and Henry get married two days later, and the various family members begin to experience some success.  Margot publishes a modestly-received play, Eli checks into rehab, and Richie starts teaching tennis to children.  Chas loosens up, and forms a relationship with his father.  He is the only one present when Royal has a heart attack at 68, and rides in the ambulance with him.  He is also the one at the bedside as his father dies.  All of the family come to the funeral, where Royal’s tombstone reads that he died saving his family from a sinking battleship.

MY TAKE:  I thought that this was a Ben Stiller movie coming in, but it didn’t take me very long to see the trademarks of Wes Anderson.  I’m sort of ambivalent about Anderson — I like some of his movies, but I don’t always get his sense of humor, and I absolutely hated The Grand Budapest Hotel.  I found that this was happily one of the films I liked.  It does have funny moments, but it’s also a deceptively deep story about family relationships.  It’s also got a cast of huge stars, both then and now:  if you notice, Alec Baldwin is the narrator.  A third Wilson brother, Andrew, also appears:  he plays Margot’s biological father, and it’s his hand that is shown with the BB lodged inside (apparently Owen shot him).  I did find it ironic that real-life brothers Luke and Owen Wilson played friends, but not siblings, in the movie.  It’s entertaining but with a deeper message, and it keeps moving at a pretty quick pace.  An enjoyable hour and a half.

RATING:  Good; not great.




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