The Royal Tenenbaums Review
After giving the world a massive cult favourite in Rushmore, Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson (now a huge movie star) have collaborated again on The Royal Tenenbaums, a film that has already garnered them an Oscar nomination and which features a fantastic all-star cast ensemble.
The Royal Tenenbaums either has too much plot or too little plot depending on how you look at it. There are at least ten major characters, but this isn't an Altman tale inter-linking each character's story strands; this is more a film equally split into slapstick comedy and serious drama. At times, it's hard to tell whether you are supposed to laugh at the film or feel genuinely saddened, and this is precisely what director Anderson is hoping for.
Anyhow, here is an attempt at explaining the plot: Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman) and his wife Etheline (Anjelica Huston) have three children--Chas (Ben Stiller), Richie (Luke Wilson), and Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow), who is adopted. The three kids are all geniuses in different ways. In his early teens, Chas made a fortune on real-estate; Margot received a Braverman grant of $50,000 in the ninth grade after becoming a successful child playwright; Richie was a junior champion tennis player and won the U.S. Nationals three years in a row. However, when Royal and Etheline separated, the kids' abilities diminished almost overnight, and they all faded into obscurity. Years later, Royal is broke, and has been kicked out of the hotel that he has been staying in since the separation (entirely on credit). To make matters worse, his now grown-up children refuse to acknowledge him, and he finds that Etheline has found new love for the first time in accountant Henry Sherman (Danny Glover). Thus, Royal hatches a plan - He'll pretend he has a few weeks to live, and then reintegrate himself into the family set-up.
The Royal Tenenbaums is one of those films that you like more in hindsight compared to when actually watching it. The plot is easy to follow, but you still feel that you need a second viewing. This is because the film's narrative drive zig-zags so ferociously between humour and sadness that you would feel more prepared watching it for a second time. However, there is enough on a first viewing to leave a grin permanently planted on your face, and it wouldn't be surprising if in a few years Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson supersede other cult-icons such as Kevin Smith in terms of popularity.
The cast are magnificent across the board. Gene Hackman has delicious fun as Royal Tenenbaum, and there are character similarities between Royal and Bill Murray's Herman Blume in Rushmore. Hackman won a Golden Globe for his performance, and yet the Oscars Academy once again turns its back on comedy by refusing to nominate him (at least he's already won two Oscars). It's interesting to note that both Ben Stiller and Bill Murray, arguably the two strongest comic actors in the film, are given perhaps the most serious characters, which demonstrates Anderson's charming ability to underplay effectively. Owen Wilson is already a star, but judging by the film it looks as if his younger brother Luke Wilson has all of the qualities of a likeable film lead. Even Gwyneth doesn't come across as her usual whiny self, and actually plays a character with edge. Kumar Pallana, portrayer of the Indian servant Pagoda, seems to give the character the sense of perfect loyalty and perfect comic timing.
In a year of endless sequels and remakes, it's refreshing to see a film that is hard to categorise. Anderson and Wilson have a good chance of beating Memento and Gosford Park to the Best Original Screenplay Oscar, but that doesn't really matter, as judging by The Royal Tenenbaums and Rushmore they are already winners in the audience's hearts.