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The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

  Directed by: Wes Anderson
Written by: Wes Anderson, Owen Wilson
Starring: Gene Hackman, Anjelica Huston, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Stiller, Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson
Links: The Royal Tenenbaums on the IMDb, Buy on Video, Buy on DVD, Buy the Soundtrack
Genre: Comedy

This movie gets: 7.00 (1 rating)
nofreelist.com Ranking: not yet ranked (awaiting 2 ratings)

The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) is also mentioned in pearly's review of The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004) and pearly's review of Zoolander (2001).

"Calm down, everyone" - a review by mino

Normally, I try not to let the hype surrounding films affect me. Any number of massively-hyped films turn out to be utter tripe (The Blair Witch Project (1999), say, springs to mind), while any number of very good films get little or no press or word-of-mouth, or are basically bagged out for no reason (A Life Less Ordinary (1997) is a good example from a few years back). Therefore, I try and steer clear of worry too much about these sorts of things.

Occasionally, though, it's impossible to avoid. The Royal Tenenbaums is a very different proposition to Blair Witch, and the hype seemed to be viewer-driven rather than just ridiculous quantities of marketing guff, but even so: it seemed, when it was first released, that every man, his dog, and his dog's fleas were raving about how good The Royal Tenenbaums was. This, of course, instantly discouraged me from seeing it.

So, it's two years later, and I've finally got around to seeing the movie. The verdict's in. So what is it?

Well, it is a good film. But I can't help but think that either a couple of years ago everyone was a little bit too excited (and maybe needed a chill pill or three), or a couple of years later, I don't quite get it. It's good, but it's not earth-shatteringly wonderful.

Royal Tenebaum (played by the often-wonderful but occasionally terrible Gene Hackman) is one cantankerous old bastard, in some ways reminiscent of Hackman's loathsome character from Heartbreakers (2001) (though a little more lovable). Royal has three children, each more eccentric than the last. There's Chas, the financial whiz; Richie, the former tennis star who had a spectacular on-court breakdown; and Margot, the pained playwright, who happens to be adopted. However, Royal is estranged from the family, having been kicked out by them for being a total prick one too many times. When, for various reasons, the family recongregate in their old house, Royal turns up and tells them that he's dying of cancer. The reactions of the family, and the way their attitudes to their despised and pitied father change when this is revealed, is the crux of the second half of the movie.

First things first: Tenenbaums does have a great cast. Hackman is perfect as Royal, giving just the right amount of roguish charm to an otherwise rather awful person. Anjelica Huston is perhaps less effective as his estranged wife, though this is probably made up for by Ben Stiller and Gwyneth Paltrow turning in two of the better performances of their respective careers as Chas and Margot. Luke Wilson is perhaps a little less convincing as Richie (his performance seems to be a pale imitation of Jason Lee, not helped by the fact that they look quite alike), but still quite enjoyable. For me though, the weak point in the cast is his brother, Owen Wilson. As with (the to my mind far superior) Rushmore (1998), Wilson (O) collaborates with director Wes Anderson on the writing duties; in my opinion, he should perhaps have stayed on that side of the camera this time around. While it does fit his character, Owen's acting seems to be far too focused on drawing the attention to his own performance, which detracts from the rather subtle interplay between the other characters.

The writing, though, can't really be faulted. The movie is very funny (though not always an out-and-out comedy), and there are some truly superb quotes which simultaneously provide belly laughs and also give great insight into the characters themselves. However, in the last third or so, I think the film kind of falls apart. The movie takes something of darker tone, which in and of itself isn't a problem. I'm sure there are those who would object to this, but not I. It's just that, where the first section was funny, intelligent, and moving, the latter tries way too hard to be insightful and emotional, instead becoming mawkish, awkward, and actually rather dull. The change of tone just seems to be too much for the writing to keep up with, and somehow the attempt to make what is a refreshingly offbeat movie even more so instead ends up falling into cliché and, perversely, becoming rather more pedestrian.

I have to give full marks to the first half at least of The Royal Tenenbaums for being a great story, well-acted and cleverly told (the flashbacks, in particular, smack of the same wicked humour found in Rushmore, which is most welcome). The characters are larger-than-life, but suprisingly complex and intriguing (especially given who plays them). The second half, though… alas, the ham-fisted attempt at making a truly quirky film just left me disappointed in comparison.

mino gives this movie 7 out of 10.
Review created on Fri 30 Jul 2004

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