The Royal Tenenbaums

2001, Movie, R, 110 mins


Precociously glib and never less than engaging, Wes Anderson's oddball comedy of family manners — imagine an Eloise novel by J.D. Salinger — chronicles the fortunes of child prodigies Chas, Margot and Richie Tenenbaum, who never fulfilled their potential. The elder Tenenbaums, glad-handing scoundrel Royal (Gene Hackman) and quietly capable Etheline (Anjelica Huston), separated (but didn't divorce) when their children were preternaturally articulate pre-adolescents; Etheline kept the family's capacious, shabbily genteel Manhattan townhouse and Royal moved into the Lindbergh Palace Hotel. Everything the young Tenenbaums touched turned to gold: Chas (Aram Aslanian-Persico) was a pint-sized financial whiz, Richie (Amedeo Turturro) a tennis virtuoso and adopted Margot (Irene Gorovaia) — as her father never failed to introduce her — a prize-winning playwright. Their childhood playmate, Eli (James Fitzgerald), was so desperate to bask in the Tenenbaums' glittering aura that he virtually adopted himself into their ranks. As the years went on, Etheline wrote a book about raising gifted children, was courted by many men and embraced archeology. Royal grew estranged from his offspring and tried the hotel's patience with his indifference to such niceties as bill paying. Eli (Owen Wilson) became a successful novelist and the Tenenbaum children foundered. Now Chas (Ben Stiller), a recent widower and the father of two small boys (Grant Rosenmeyer, Jonah Meyerson), is having a nervous breakdown. Richie (Luke Wilson), who retired from tennis after a spectacular on-court meltdown, is aimlessly cruising the world and Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow), who married much-older neurologist Raleigh St. Clair (Bill Murray), hasn't written in years. Unhappy and directionless, Chas retreats to the security of Mom's place and Margot, who's been squandering her days watching TV in the bathtub, follows: If Chas can run home to Etheline, so can she. Richie returns to confront his unrequited love for Margot, and Royal comes home because he's been evicted. Etheline, newly engaged to the gentle, reliable Henry Sherman (Danny Glover), takes in her not-quite-ex-husband because he says he's dying and wants to make things right with his family before he goes. How charmed you are by the quirky Tenenbaums will determine how much you enjoy their tortured efforts to work things out. The self-consciously loopy plot is mostly a showcase for the cast, and Hackman and Houston easily outshine the younger actors: Stiller's sputtering rage, Paltrow's goth-deb anomie and the Wilsons' goofy antics are entertaining, but they're one-note characterizations. Anderson has said he took some of his inspiration from classic New Yorker fiction, and the film's studied eccentricities do indeed recall the magazine's more precious offerings. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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