The Royal Tenenbaums


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

The Royal Tenenbaums
"Stiller, Paltrow, Murray and Luke Wilson needn't have bothered. Their characters are stuck in ruts."

There is a buzz about this movie. Like it's so hippety hop, you can hear the band playing before it comes round the corner. With a cast like this, what can you say? Gene, Go! Go! Go!

What you say is: "Such a waste!"

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At first, the style is ironic. A narrative voice-over (Alec Baldwin) relates the story of the Tenenbaum children, how they were prodigies who could not live up to their genius. They stayed in a big house in New York. Dad (Gene Hackman), whose proper name is Royal, divorces Mom (Anjelica Huston) and books into an hotel for 22 years. The kids grow up.

Chas (Ben Stiller) was a property tycoon at 14. Now he has two children and no job. His wife died in a plane crash and he's obsessed with safety. Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow) was adopted, aged two, but still managed to write plays before reaching puberty. Now she is married to Raleigh St Clare (Bill Murray), a psycho-something-or-other, who writes books and is decades older. She smokes in secret and never smiles. Richie (Luke Wilson) was a sports buff, who becomes a tennis champ, only to blow it big time at Flushing Meadows, after which he gives up and hangs around the house, sleeping in a tent upstairs. He's in love with Margot. Eli Cash (Owen Wilson), the boy next door, has none of the Tenenbaums' talent and yet becomes a successful novelist. He has an affair with Margot.

Mom hasn't slept with a man for 17 years. Her accountant (Danny Glover) wants to marry her. She's flattered and, frankly, amazed. Royal loses all his money, is flung out of the hotel, pretends he has cancer and returns to the house, where he behaves badly and teaches Chas's sons to break the law.

Having set the scene of an eccentric, brilliant and dysfunctional family, Owen Wilson and director Wes Anderson, who wrote the script, don't know what to do next. Stiller, Paltrow, Murray and Luke Wilson needn't have bothered. Their characters are stuck in ruts. Hackman is the lucky one. He can play the fool.

As a comedy, it wants to come from left field and do what Spike Jonze did with Being John Malkovich, but imagination leaks out of it and what remains is a gluttonous mess. There is a faint whiff of self-congratulation, as if the pleasure of being in this illustrious company will suffice.

It doesn't.

Reviewed on: 14 Mar 2002
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The Royal Tenenbaums packshot
A family of eccentric geniuses is shaken when their caddish estranged father re-appears in their lives.
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Director: Wes Anderson

Writer: Wes Anderson, Owen Wilson

Starring: Gene Hackman, Anjelica Huston, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Stiller, Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, Danny Glover, Bill Murray, Alec Baldwin, Seymour Cassel, Kumar Pallana

Year: 2001

Runtime: 110 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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