The Royal Tenenbaums

Finding any scrap of originality in today's films is a rare occurrence, which is why Wes Anderson is so special. The Royal Tenenbaums is Anderson's third film (after Bottle Rocket and Rushmore), and all three contain an odd, quirky humor not found elsewhere. Watching Anderson's bizarre characters gives his films a distinct flavor. There is also an uncertainty as to what will happen next, mainly because no one knows what's going on in Anderson's warped (warped in a good way) mind. Tenenbaums is about a family of fallen geniuses, and their father's attempt at reconciliation. Royal (Gene Hackman, Heist, Behind Enemy Lines) is the patriarch, and an all-around jerk. Frequent flashbacks show exactly how he managed to estrange himself from his family. Now, he wants to fix everything, so in his typical fashion, he lies about having cancer so that he can move back home and reconcile. Royal's intentions are dubious, since his hotel evicted him.

His wife Etheline (Anjelica Huston, The Mists of Avalon, The Golden Bowl) relents, only because she thinks he is dying. Royal redoubles his efforts after realizing she may marry Henry Sherman (Danny Glover, Boesman and Lena, Battu). The Tenenbaum children were hailed as geniuses when they were kids, but each underwent some sort of spectacular failure. Richie (Luke Wilson, Legally Blonde, Charlie's Angels) was a tennis sensation. Now, he mopes around, still wearing his tennis gear, and pines after his adopted daughter Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow, Pootie Tang, The Anniversary Party). Margot, who, as a child was a gifted playwright, now spends her time soaking in a tub ignoring her older husband Raleigh St. Clair (Bill Murray, Osmosis Jones, Charlie's Angels). Chas (Ben Stiller, Zoolander, Meet the Parents), the last child, is a financial genius. After the death of his wife, he becomes hyperprotective of his two children, Ari (Grant Rosenmeyer) and Uzi (Jonah Meyerson).

Heavy star power peppers the film, which shows how much people want to work with Anderson. It seems like Anderson and Wilson wrote with specific actors in mind, because everybody comes off so well. Stiller does his usual canned rage routine. Chas has lots of hatred towards his father, and despises how Royal wants to know Ari and Uzi better. Hackman is wonderful as a pathological liar. It's not clear sometimes whether he believes himself. All he wants is for people to like him, and he will do whatever it takes. The other standout in the cast is Paltrow, who has never been more sullen. Anderson favors stationary shots with lots of characters in them, and while everybody is in the foreground, Paltrow is always lurking somewhere in the background. Huston, Glover, and Murray have smaller roles in the film, but like everybody else, Anderson gives them eccentric dialogue and character traits, and they all have their chance to act weird in front of the camera.

Sometimes it feels like Anderson and co-writer Owen Wilson (Behind Enemy Lines, Zoolander) spent all their time setting things up. Wilson also appears as Eli Cash, Richie's best friend, Margot's lover, and famous author obsessed with western culture. About halfway through The Royal Tenenbaums, the story fizzles out. Anderson and Wilson spend so much time setting up the character traits and Royal's scheme that they forget about the story until the strange ending. The oddest and funniest material is in the beginning, when all the Tenenbaums converge together. This is not to say that the latter portion of the film is not funny, it is just less funny. Monotone narration by Alec Baldwin (Cats and Dogs, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within) and chapter headings only contribute to a weird, unrealistic, fairytale like setting. Nevertheless, there are more than enough laugh-out-loud lines and scenes to make up for any slow parts in the plot.

Haro Rates It: Pretty Good.
1 hour, 48 minutes, Rated R for some language, sexuality/nudity, and drug content.

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