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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 22.38%
Average: 7.14%
Pretty Bad: 2.86%
Total Crap: 9.52%

14 reviews, 126 user ratings

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Royal Tenenbaums, The
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by Collin Souter

"Real Genius"
5 stars

I went to see Wes Anderson’s “The Royal Tenenbaums” with a friend of mine who has all but lost his faith in the magic of movies. He grumbles at the sight of every Hollywood movie poster and shudders the thought of ever going to a movie strictly to have a good time. He can’t stand the thought that people will gladly pay top dollar for such middle-of-the-road entertainment such as “Ocean’s Eleven,” “Vanilla Sky,” “Lord of the Rings,” and “Not Another Teen Movie.” (This is HIS opinion, remember) He preached to the choir a little more, and basically came to the inevitable conclusion that people just don’t want to think and that nobody wants to make movies about real people doing real things.

Prior to entering the theater, he already felt convinced that “The Royal Tenenbaums” would be the best film of the year. I try not to walk into a movie with any such expectation, but I sure had my hopes up. Not once this year, even amidst my small crop of 4-star movies, have I had an experience that comes close to the magic and beauty of my two favorite films of 2000: “Almost Famous” and “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” So, I could see where this tirade came from. I agreed with it, although these days, as we grow older, my friend and I hardly agree on any movie anymore. So goes an inevitable truth about growing up, a subject “The Royal Tenenbaums” knows all too well.

Anderson’s third feature (after “Bottle Rocket” and “Rushmore”) tells the story of a family of geniuses fathered by Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman in the best performance of the year), a kind of son-of-a-bitch who doesn’t see the rudeness in criticizing his daughter’s school play for not having any interesting characters. He has basically thrown the How-to book of behavior etiquette out the window, much to the dismay of his children. He and his wife Etheline (Anjelica Huston) gave birth to two boys and adopted a girl.

In storybook fashion, “The Royal Tenenbaums” opens with a back-story of this dysfunctional family where one of the children, Richie (played as an adult by Luke Wilson), has already become a tennis pro, another has his own business selling Dalmatian mice (Chas, played as an adult by Ben Stiller) and the third, the adopted Margot (Gwenyth Paltrow) has already written several plays. Each of the children found their genius right around puberty, but not without a little help from their mother. The chapters in the “Royal Tenenbaum” book continue as the Tenenbaums have now reached adulthood. Their parents have divorced and the father has been estranged from them for the past six years.

One day, Royal hears from his friend that Etheline has found a new suitor, an accountant named Henry (Danny Glover). Meanwhile, Chas, now with two boys and a dog, has decided to move back in with his mother after not being able to live without his wife since her death a couple months ago. Margot gets wind of this and takes it upon herself to also movie back in with her family. The third child, Richie, has been down on his luck as a tennis pro. Nobody knows why he foiled his last game, but now he lives at sea on his very own boat, just wandering aimlessly and still pining for his would-be childhood sweetheart, his adopted sister, Margot. Eventually, he moves back in as well.

To try and win back the affection of his wife, Royal tells the family that he has stomach cancer. Only his son Richie seems to care, or even believe. Most everyone else has his or her suspicions. Meanwhile, Margot’s former childhood sweetheart, Eli Cash (a hilarious Owen Wilson), now a literary giant with the look of a cowboy, tries to re-kindle their childhood flame. A few months ago, she married Raleigh St. Clair (Bill Murray), a researcher whom we never see without his test subject, a scrawny dyslexic and colorblind kid who can’t tell time. All three have displayed their affection for her. She, as well as her two half-brothers, doesn’t seem to have anyone to turn to for advice, unless, of course, Royal can redeem himself to everyone around him.

Anderson and co-writer Owen Wilson have fashioned the best screenplay of the year, full of wisdom and detailed insight on all of these characters. Within the actions of the characters lurk masterful and frequently hilarious set pieces that add personality, even when we think we already know the characters by heart. The wall paintings and props scattered about in Owen Wilson’s apartment may well be the funniest thing I’ve seen all year. Anderson frames these sets with what appears to be his signature stylistic choice: Everything at dead center, or with prominence placed at the far left or far right of the frame, but always filling the screen with generous interest. It is the kind of style that suits the story, where everyone feels, ironically, off-balance.

To only devote a couple paragraphs to the strength of everyone’s performance seems futile. The entire cast could clutter up the award ballots at the end of this year, with Hackman and Huston at the front of the line. What a pleasure it is to watch these two on screen together. With simple one-take scenes Hackman and Huston play a believable couple reluctant to sign divorce papers, but even more reluctant to admit liking each other. Anderson made the perfect casting choice in Huston, a no-nonsense pillar of strength playing off of Hackman’s nonsense-spouting slither of weakness.

The supporting characters could each take home a special Ensemble Award for their great work. Owen Wilson has written for himself the funniest character of the year in Eli Cash. Luke Wilson, who undergoes a transformation midway through the film shows a deep, aching heart beneath all the facial hair and his ever-present headband. Paltrow gives the best and most interesting performance of her career, almost as though she might have been the third best friend in “Ghost World.” Stiller, a sarcastic comedian in his early days, has somehow found a way to deliver great serious performances without having us wondering whether or not he means it. His moments of truth at the end earns every one of our tears. And, boy is it great to see Danny Glover in a great movie again!

Anderson shares another trait with the director of last year’s best film, Cameron Crowe: His ingenious use of music. While “Rushmore” had a distinct sound using mod rockers of the 60s, “Tenenbaums” takes from a more familiar canvas of songs, but you’ll probably never hear them in quite the same way again. A rendition of “Hey Jude” lifts the film off the ground sends it soaring. The Rolling Stones’ “She Smiles Sweetly” and “Ruby Tuesday” have a sad potency about them as two of the Tenenbaums try to deal with a deep family problem.

“The Royal Tenenbaums” may be of the rarest breed of film. It has us laughing at genuinely funny moments that don’t come from forced dialogue or dumbed-down situations that you find in most American comedies. It has a truth and wisdom about it that doesn’t pander or preach. And as much as we know Royal has done wrong by his kids and that he will probably have a lot of growing up to do well into his seventies and eighties, we root for him to find the difference between right and wrong. We root for Chas to open the doors of communication with his father. We root for everyone to find love and to succeed professionally. Every character has a distinct “want,” and while rooting for them, we can’t decide which character is our favorite. And I don’t believe I heard a single predictable line of dialogue throughout the entire film.

Upon leaving the theater, my friend and I agreed that “The Royal Tenenbaums” is the best film of the year. My friend stopped grumbling, he stopped pissing and moaning, and he started talking about how great movies can be. Again, he preached to the choir, but think about how great a movie can be if it could put a smile on this curmudgeon’s face. Now, imagine how it must feel to someone who hasn’t been quite as jaded. “Remember this feeling,” he said to me. “Because it won’t be around again for a long time.” Even with the upcoming re-release of perhaps the most pivotal movie of my life (“E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial”), I fear he may be right.

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originally posted: 12/28/01 01:31:37
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User Comments

1/19/18 Ed Riddick Brilliant writing and acting. 5 stars
3/05/15 stanley welles an awesome adult comedy - immaculately written and brilliantly performed 5 stars
7/08/09 *Holy_J@lapeno* A wonderful dark humor movie. Favorite part "Look at that old grizzley bear" 4 stars
7/04/09 Gristle So fucking empty and utterly boring 1 stars
11/11/08 Brian I'm addicted to this movie. One of the best comedies ever. Hilarious and beautiful. 5 stars
9/03/07 Quigley Well-scripted, well-acted and visually inventive comedy. Hackman should have won an Oscar. 5 stars
2/06/07 nmedina Ive seen it over 100 times and have decide like Eli Cash to be a Tenenbaum. 5 stars
1/09/07 Drew Galletti Extremely well done, though I need to revisit still 3 stars
1/09/07 Tulip O'Hare Completely don't get why this is supposed to be good. I just found it slow and snarky. 2 stars
11/03/06 Bitchflaps I hated Rushmore, but this is excellent. 4 stars
10/12/06 The Hugh Hilarious and Tragic 5 stars
8/11/06 M. Mirliss According to EFC, my film criticism skills are worse than Kelly Palma's...suicide time. 5 stars
4/06/06 Wholy Crapman Wacky, yet believable and lovable characters. Just what Anderson does best 5 stars
3/19/06 MP Bartley Hackman is terrific, but Anderson (as ever) keeps us too distant from the characters. 4 stars
1/09/06 sdg sdg boring 1 stars
7/31/05 yuko hilarious, adorable and a little bit of sadness 5 stars
6/14/05 E-FUNK A Beautiful, hilarious, heart-felt film. I didn't think he could top Rushmore, I was wrong. 5 stars
6/08/05 John Aster Habig a movie that looks at the true meaning of family and love 5 stars
5/26/05 Jake Not as good as Rushmore but still very good 4 stars
5/13/05 mitch Kelly Palma can't handle "reel" comedy 5 stars
1/16/05 Abbath Nice, quirky comedy/drama. Well written with great characters. 5 stars
12/30/04 DM Funny, unique and strangely poignant. 4 stars
11/09/04 Chris McElheney the best movie ive ever seen! i love it. 5 stars
11/01/04 erika my name is erika tenenbaum which is preety fnny i thought the movie was just awsome 5 stars
9/12/04 R.W. Welch Has a certain style but mostly played too slow and low key. 3 stars
8/04/04 Stefan Good comedy thats very funny but gladly doesn't laugh at its self if u know what i mean 4 stars
7/30/04 Josh Standlee So sh*tty, it made Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson and Bill Murray look bad! 1 stars
7/12/04 Recurring Dream i was very entertained and amused by those great little touches in the background. 4 stars
7/05/04 Erin Great!!! 5 stars
7/02/04 Daveman Gracefully crafted and shot with wonderfully subtle dark humor. 4 stars
6/28/04 Bobby da Squid Wonderful cast, NYC-but-not-NYC, amazing rich, detailed visuals - one of my favs 5 stars
4/26/04 Lord Jiggy A slow build...earns your laughter, respect, and affection. Worth full price. 5 stars
3/27/04 Melissa Gaugert If you like Ben Stiller comedy, you'll love it, like I did! Wacky!! 4 stars
3/24/04 Margie i don't think i got it, cuz i was more creeped out than anything... and i didn't laugh :-( 2 stars
3/17/04 Holly Beeman What can I say? Wes Anderson is the man. Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, etc.! 5 stars
3/09/04 Wendranh didn't feel any connection to the characters at all 2 stars
2/26/04 Sean What comedy should aspire to be. One of the best. 5 stars
2/07/04 charlie ace 5 stars
1/30/04 Jack Bourbon Garp-guy wannabes. 3 stars
1/28/04 Tom Brilliant, a rare gem 5 stars
1/27/04 lonesome_whistle A funny, quirky, touching movie 4 stars
1/27/04 Jay This movie was a waste of money and time 1 stars
6/26/03 cochese No one else said it, so I will. "The Royal Piece of Shit" 1 stars
5/13/03 scottyrobotty more funny lines than any movie in the last 10 years. perfect 5 stars
4/21/03 Skankin' inThePit Great movie/acting/directing--Anderson is a favorite along with Richard Kelly in my book 5 stars
3/23/03 Winthrop J Applesmythe III the reviewer is on crack. SEE THIS MOVIE. 5 stars
2/11/03 Alex Pérez Córdova It´s an excelent movie 5 stars
1/06/03 Karen Great movie! 5 stars
12/16/02 Jimmy Snuka This movie is as awesome as me off the top rope!!! 5 stars
12/09/02 Goofy Maxwell Bitter fruit grows on this family tree. But magnificent Anderson tells such a sweet tale. 4 stars
12/03/02 mr. Pink brilliant! Anderson fulfills his promise that he had with debut Bottle Rocket. Great! 5 stars
12/02/02 Gruther waste of time 2 stars
11/28/02 Zack W. Young A pervesely terrific cast and brilliant writing and direction make this a rare modern gem. 5 stars
11/28/02 Lady who hates romantic comedies The Wilson brothers rock - Gwyneth does not 4 stars
11/04/02 Nerf_Herder Sad, funny, bitersweet and everything in between 5 stars
10/30/02 spacecowboy I really enjoyed this. 5 stars
10/28/02 mike bernotas One thing about this guy's movies.... you can almost feel the season's 5 stars
10/27/02 MarktheShark6 The best family movie ever made. They didn't have to kill poor ol' Buckley, though. 5 stars
9/29/02 royal tenenbaum sweet 5 stars
9/29/02 Peter Sherlock I think people mistake smart-arse stuff for brilliance 1 stars
9/15/02 Monster W. Kung Competently made and acted, but not very funny at all. 3 stars
8/25/02 Roberto Donati Is Anderson the new american talent? 4 stars
8/07/02 Banky Edwards What a weird and funny movie!!! I really enjoyed it and giggled like a fool throughout! 5 stars
8/05/02 Lexy Z. Bitchin.' 5 stars
8/01/02 Christopher Inspired, wonderful, touching, funny. 5 stars
7/27/02 karen goldstein i didn't laugh once - she was in love with her brother! Yuck!!!! 1 stars
7/23/02 erick prolly fav. of the year, and def. in my top 5, watch its awesome 5 stars
7/16/02 Caiphn Just watched it again, still my favorite movie this year. 5 stars
7/15/02 The Bomb 69 I caught myself laughing at the small, minute points, if you pay attention it will delight 4 stars
7/14/02 Phil M. Aficionado Quirky, funny, and cutting edge. A truly meaningful dark comedy with ACTING 4 stars
7/12/02 Punk_Ass At first I was like WTF?? but it grew on me as the movie progressed. wierd/entertaining 4 stars
6/19/02 Oscar Smart, Funny, and full of substance 5 stars
5/27/02 PeterGibbons Art house? You frat boys are a riot. I wanna do mescaline! 5 stars
5/27/02 Nicole If you like dry humor and pay attention to the detail in the movie, you will enjoy! 4 stars
5/19/02 Chowie pretty good, owen and luke kick arse 4 stars
5/15/02 nice, very nice, but not great. Huston is great 4 stars
3/27/02 dsmart American arthouse : odd, not funny, pointless 1 stars
3/23/02 Guy Forssman 0/100 there should be a law against this kind of movies 1 stars
3/19/02 Simeon Briggs Best film of the year 5 stars
3/18/02 Caiphn Worth watching. Excellent review, Collin Souter. 4 stars
3/14/02 Roy Smith Left after 20 minutes - boring and sad. People liked this? 1 stars
3/12/02 spaceworm Want to see it again. Gene's a Machine. 5 stars
3/02/02 Unagiboy The scene with the "Bikers" paintings was classic! 5 stars
3/01/02 Butterbean Hackman was incredible, this movie was entertaining. 4 stars
2/24/02 tforce academic films about neurosis are better than this 1 stars
2/20/02 Xaver Nicely entertaining. Some laughs, too. 4 stars
2/20/02 luda hoe the characters are brilliant, the script is smart, the laughs are genuine. 5 stars
2/19/02 Zach movie of the year, hands down. 5 stars
2/18/02 m i like it more each day that passes. i want to see it again, if only for the paintings. 4 stars
2/17/02 AgentDS Disturbingly entertaining 4 stars
2/17/02 Meryl K. Awesome. Stiller and Hackman are incredible. See the movie, see it right now. 5 stars
2/16/02 Phredrick Dobbs Exquisite 5 stars
2/11/02 Chelley Whom ever doesn't like this film doesn't deserve to live. 5 stars
2/11/02 Jimmy James excellent! quirky and funny 5 stars
2/11/02 Greg Jones By far the best movie of the year. 5 stars
2/06/02 Weeblerelf Intricate, beautiful!! My new favorite!! Just beautiful! 5 stars
2/02/02 dulac76 The guy who wrote this review must have seen an entirely different film than I did. 2 stars
1/28/02 arisa renewed my senses... 5 stars
1/27/02 Artist Freak This movie underwhelmed me immensely. SOme funny bits, but no point that I could see. 2 stars
1/25/02 Slitchard Richmond Insular and precious, but gloriously and sweetly so. Tender and melancholic. 5 stars
1/24/02 Paco Great emotional themes, performances and soundtrack. Far better than the overrated Rushmor 4 stars
1/22/02 The Man Best film since "American Beauty" 5 stars
1/18/02 Mister Char i just didn't see what was so terrific about it, maybe i missed something, good cast though 3 stars
1/15/02 Carly I had really high expectations. Solid, but no Rushmore. 4 stars
1/13/02 The Boy In The Designer Bubble Strange that nearly everyone in this movie has a famous relative? 1 stars
1/11/02 Robert Odd, touching, clever, but in the end, unsatisfying. Not much insight or feeling at the end 4 stars
1/08/02 wintermute Wow. 2002 is already heaps better than 2001. Bring it On! 5 stars
1/06/02 jeffrey flood wondreful wicked satire 5 stars
1/06/02 The Man Superb- great performances. A film with a style to call its own 5 stars
1/05/02 specialK no Rushmore, but had 4(?) alumni. didn't meet expectations 3 stars
1/05/02 raiven an unfunny waste of film, cast and TIME, trying SOOO hard to be eccentric and clever. 1 stars
1/05/02 rue the whirl i predict this will get better with repeated viewings 4 stars
1/04/02 John This isn't just a a movie. It's *film*. This is easily the funniest and best movie so far 5 stars
1/04/02 Superdave Excellent acting, somewhat funny, but no story and very strange, but in a bad way 3 stars
1/03/02 This movie's awsome! Y2k2 I loved this movie, actually I havn't seen it yet, but since Owen's in it, it must be good. 5 stars
1/02/02 jim-bob one hot asian masseuse in it, and one tit-shot. 3 stars
12/31/01 poetchuck An afternoon nap would have been a better use of time 1 stars
12/31/01 Thor-Leo Brilliant, perfectly pitched, almost every scene a jewel. 5 stars
12/30/01 LZ "Interesting..." 4 stars
12/29/01 Jason Fessel This movie rules. It is totally entertaining and funny. It is easy to get absorbed into ch 5 stars
12/23/01 frank i didn't think it was better than RUSHMORE, but it was close. 5 stars
12/19/01 Heather Full of dry humor and great characters, one of the year's best 5 stars
12/16/01 ajay rushmore was great, this is just as good. 5 stars
12/16/01 Emily great 5 stars
12/15/01 Boomshanka Better than Rushmore. 5 stars
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  14-Dec-2001 (R)



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