|By Mira Harber
The Royal Tenenbaums is the movie that puts the fun back in dysfunctional.
It was directed by Wes Anderson (Rushmore & Bottle Rocket) and co-written
by Anderson and Owen Wilson. This is the story of a family of child-prodigies,
abandoned by their charismatic father Royal (Gene Hackman in a role written
for him) who grow up to be neurotic, obsessed, and/or restlessly travelling
the world. Their various friends, spouses and family complete the
cast of characters. This movie has a real John Irving quality to it - a
world of slightly bizarre characters in a somewhat ‘not-quite-real’ world
of the extraordinary and unusual.
The Tenenbaum’s live in a gigantic house, with an endless number of rooms,
in New York City. Royal Tenenbaum returns home after 17 years (where he
has been living in a hotel on credit). Royal neglected to ever divorce
his wife Etheline (Angelica Huston) and now wants to spend his ‘remaining
time’ - six weeks, to make amends and be with his family.
One of the things I really liked about this film is the way that it doesn’t
beat you on the head with “Feel this, now” - rather we’re left to decide
for ourselves about how to react. Is it funny or is it serious - or is
it, like life, more than a bit of both?
Royal is faking stomach cancer and moves back into the family home (sneaks
back in would be more correct) complete with a hospital bed, doctor (really
the bellboy Dusty), vast amounts of official looking medical equipments,
bottles of prescription drugs to help deal with the pain etc. He says he
wants to get to know his grandchildren, who are currently being over-protected
to death by their super-neurotic financial whiz dad Chas (Ben Stiller).
Chas actually had Royal disbarred in the 80’s for a number of ‘irregularities’
and is a sad combination of fear and fury.
His adopted sister Margot (Gwenyth Paltrow) is a playwright who hasn’t
written a play in seven years. She is unhappily married to psychologist
Raleigh St.Clair (Bill Murray) and having an unsatisfying affair with her
childhood playmate Eli (Owen Wilson). Eli writes bad cowboy books and is
currently somewhat in vogue in literary circles.
When the remaining sibling Richie (Luke Wilson), the former tennis-pro
turned world-weary wanderer, hears of his father’s condition, he too returns
to the family homestead. Several years prior, Richie suffered a total meltdown
on the courts in the middle of a televised US tennis tournament, curiously
enough, the day after his sister’s wedding.
Glover plays Henry Sherman, Etheline’s accountant who unexpectedly proposes
marriage, just before Royal pops back into the picture.
The Royal Tenenbaums is always unexpected and engaging. All the characters,whether
the parts are large or small (including Pagoda, Royal’s sidekick/servant
who once tried to murder Royal and then rescued him) play their parts to
the hilt - not overkill, but note-perfect.
The Royal Tenenbaums is a film full of unexpected delights and surprises.
It is a gem - sympathetic and full of heart. Don’t miss it.