The Royal Tenenbaums

on December 14, 2001 by Francesca Dinglasan
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   In his 1998 sophomore effort “Rushmore,” arthouse filmmaker and critical darling Wes Anderson established himself as a distinctly original writer and director, whose keen ability to balance biting witticism and individualized tragedy is realized through the whimsical performances of the film's principal cast. Having raised the bar in bigscreen innovation, it would seem that Anderson's latest undertaking, “The Royal Tenenbaums,” has much to live up to. Thankfully, not only does this comedic drama about the personal catastrophes that befall a troubled family of three precocious children and their eccentric parents surpass expectations, it does so in a manner that maintains Anderson's unique vision, while avoiding any sense of filmic repetition.

   The ingenuity of “The Royal Tenenbaums'” script, penned by Anderson and writing partner Owen Wilson (who also has a supporting role in the film), takes shape through the notable star power behind the cast of characters, including Gene Hackman as estranged father and husband Royal, Anjelica Huston as supportive mother Etheline, Ben Stiller as financial whiz and eldest child Chas, Luke Wilson as tennis phenom son Richie and Gwyneth Paltrow as literary-minded adopted daughter Margot. The story of this singular clan is revealed in a novelistic fashion, with the film's narrative structure relaying the trials and tribulations suffered individually and collectively by the group on a chapter-by-chapter basis. As an example of the film's clever styling, an early chapter, framed as a montage of the burgeoning dysfunction in the Tenenbaum household, unfolds to the soundtrack of The Beatles' “Hey Jude”--a tune written by Paul McCartney to comfort a young Julian Lennon during the latter's own time of family difficulty.

   Intellectually gifted and extraordinarily talented, each Tenenbaum child finds reasonable success: Chas becomes a prosperous investor, Richie plays in pro touraments before suffering a high-profile meltdown and Margot matures into a published playwright. However, the self-involved parenting style of Royal, who eventually abandons his young family, clearly affects each of his children, who suffer terribly from depression and loneliness in their adult lives. When all three siblings find excuses to move back into their mother's home, a still morally dubious Royal, who holds sincere hopes of reconciling with his family, fakes impending death in order to gain access into their lives.

   Nuanced, multilayered and oftentimes most poignant when its humor is at its darkest, “The Royal Tenenbaums” is one of those rare Hollywood products that assumes a mature intelligence among its audience. Though underlying themes of incest, mourning and destructive jealousy are hardly the conventions of standard comedic fare, Anderson and his ensemble cast deftly navigate the tricky minefields of social taboos and political correctness to deliver an at once somber and joyous spectacle. And though a percentage of mainstream moviegoers is certain to find the complexity of both the pic's titular family and narrative technique disconcerting, it's a pleasure to know that filmmakers such as Anderson have not let such considerations disrupt the creation of works as unusual and stimulating as “The Royal Tenenbaums.” Starring Gene Hackman, Anjelica Huston, Ben Stiller, Luke Wilson, Gwyneth Paltrow, Owen Wilson, Danny Glover and Bill Murray. Directed by Wes Anderson. Written by Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson. Produced by Wes Anderson, Barry Mendel and Scott Rudin. A Buena Vista release. Comedy/Drama. Rated R for some language, sexuality, nudity and drug content. Running time: 108 min

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