The Royal Tenenbaums

The Royal Tenenbaums photoRated R
Running Time: 103 Minutes
Directed by Wes Anderson
Screenplay written by Anderson and Owen Wilson.


Anderson’s films are unique and quirky. However, as with “Rushmore” I felt a little cheated when walking out of the theater. I think this is because I love Anderson’s sense of comedy, but in both “Rushmore” and “The Tenenbaums” he tries to be all things to all people and explore darker, melodramatic territory as well.

I enjoyed the plotline with Royal Tenenbaum, the outcast patriarch trying to get back into his family’s good graces. The same basic premise was used to good effect by the Cohen Brothers in “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”. Gene Hackman makes his role as Royal come alive. He’s a lovable scoundrel who you can’t help but root for even though you might despise some of the things he’s done.

However, the plotline concerning Richie and Margot really took the wind out of the movie’s sails. Margot is a melancholy playwright, and her part is to look depressed, but it’s hard to stir up empathy or kindle interest in a love subplot where the object of affection staggers from scene to scene like she’s been shot up with thorazine. I grew bored with her and with Richie mooning over her.

On the whole, though, the film comes out ahead and is worth seeing.

This is Anderson’s third film and I can’t help but think that his best work is just ahead of him. After all, if Robert Altman can make a bomb like “Popeye” and then bring us a gem like “Gosford Park”, then surely we shouldn’t get too flustered when a good film isn’t quite all that we had hoped.

I really look forward to more from Anderson in the future.


Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman) and Etheline Tenenbaum (Anjelica Huston) had three children (one of which, Margot, was adopted). All three were child prodigies, but Royal, who showed little interest in the family, abandoned them.

Etheline raised all three children and wrote a book about them: Chas (Ben Stiller) was a financial whiz kid, Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow) won a Pulitzer Prize by age twelve, and Richie (Luke Wilson) was a tennis champion.

However, years later, all three children have lost their edge:

  • Chas lost his wife in a plane crash and has two twin boys to raise. He is so sunk in grief and paranoia about his children’s safety he can’t move on with his life.
  • Margot is married to a boring anthropologist/psychologist named Raleigh St. Clair (Bill Murray). She sits in the bathtub watching television and chain-smoking all day. She hasn’t written anything in years.
  • Luke (who is secretly in love with his adopted sister) had the worst tennis game of his life when Raleigh and Margot came to watch him play in a championship match after their marriage. He is considered washed-up and has spent the last year of his life living aboard a luxury cruise ship.

Things come to a head when Etheline decides to re-marry with Henry Sherman (Danny Glover).

Royal finds out about the impending marriage at about the same time that he is being locked out of his hotel suite. Once a successful litigator, Royal was kicked off of the bar after it was proven that he was stealing from his own child (Chas and his whiz-
kid stock investments). Royal has been living off of his accumulated wealth but it is now all gone and only his faithful servant, Pagoda, remains.

Royal hatches a plan to pretend he is dying of cancer. He bluffs Etheline into taking him in for his last 6 weeks of life. At the same time, all three kids decide to move back, each of them seeking the comfort of the family home for separate reasons.

Royal gets to spend time with his twin grandkids and makes headway with all his family until his secret plot is discovered by Henry Sherman.

Then, Royal’s story is shunted aside as the relationship between Margot and Luke is explored.

Also, there is a storyline with Eli Cash (Owen Wilson) as a crazy pulp western writer who is on a downward spiral filled with cocaine and mescaline. Though good for a couple of gags, this doesn’t really add much to the plot.

Luke eventually seeks into depression and slits his wrists in a suicide attempt, but he is discovered and his life is saved.

Throughout all the trials and difficulties, the family members come to a new sense of acceptance and equilibrium at the final wedding of Henry and Etheline. Even though Royal couldn’t claim his wife, he still has his family back.