The Royal Tenenbaums  (2001)

Directed by: Wes Anderson
Written by: Wes Anderson and Owen C. Wilson
Produced by: Wes Anderson, Barry Mendel, Scott Rudin
Executive Producers: Rudd Simmons and Owen C. Wilson

Many people doubtlessly consider The Royal Tenenbaums to be an inflation rather than a continuation of Anderson's concerns. On the surface, this is his grandest movie -- the setting is a timeless version of greater New York (as opposed to a timeless version of greater Houston), there are Beatles songs on the soundtrack, big-name actors and one mega-star in the cast. And it's true that it's longer on high-flown comic inventions (Owen Wilson's J. Peterman-ish novelist Eli Cash, the outlandish worldwide wanderings of Paltrow's Margot), and shorter on the kind of detail worked that endeared Rushmore to its fans, like the brief yet indelible shot of Margaret Yang (Sara Tanaka) delicately craning her neck at the science fair, or the barely glimpsed name in the printed handwriting on Max's Latin reinstatement petition: "Thayer." But this is another film with another set of concerns, about another kind of sadness: the longing to "restore" the family that was never happy in the first place to a glory that never was. It's funny that the newspaper of record would hone in on the fact that none of the Tenenbaums appear to be part of the same family, and single it out as a fault. Because that's pretty much the point: a sympathetic yet inattentive matriarch, a long-gone father who hides behind layers of guff and nonsense from old western novels to protect himself from intimacy ("Look at that old black buck," he says of Glover's beyond-elegant suitor), and three children with nothing but their own talent for company, each building their own genius stricken identity (Stiller's the "preternaturally" talented financial whiz kid, Paltrow's the playwright, Luke Wilson's the tennis star) in sad efforts to define themselves outside of their unfathomable yet inescapable family.

The film proudly wears its inspiration on its sleeve: Welles's The Magnificent Ambersons, Salinger's Glass family stories, the old New Yorker of Ross and Shawn, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, the Velvet Underground, a tinge of Fitzgerald, a dash of Philip Barry. But it speaks on its own singular voice: at once tender and probing, mindful of New York and its special mixture of grit and glory but confident enough to mold it into a big, faded magical playhouse, a limitless extension of the Tenenbaum family's private universe. The spectacle of father and children contriving to return home and make amends ("Why does he get to do that? says the childishly disappointed Margot when Etheline tells her that Stiller's Chas is moving back into the house) deepens with each new viewing -- in hilarity (Royal and Chas's screaming match inside the games closet, Royal's outlaw excursions with his grandsons, to whom he offers the following condolence for the accidental death of their mother: "I'm sorry for your loss--your mother was a extremely [note: actually -- terribly] attractive woman." ), pathos (Richie and Margot's secret tryst in his tent as they listen to "She Smiled Sweetly" and "Ruby Tuesday" [corrected by editor] on an old record player, every interaction between Etheline and Glover's Henry, Royal taking Margot out for ice cream over the melancholy strains of Vince Guaraldi's immortal Charlie Brown Christmas theme), and sheer delight (Owen Wilson's Eli quietly bugging out on national television). The word epiphany gets thrown around a lot, but it should be reserved for moments like the flight of Richie's falcon over the New York City skyline, represented the lost glory of the Tenenbaums; Margot's slow-motion approach to Richie to the tune of Nico's evanescent "These Days": protected by her ever-present fur coat and striped cotton dress, her eyes shrouded in mascara, her hair pushed back with a barrette like a 12-year-old's, her mouth creased in an adolescent half-smile, you get both the current of feeling between Margot and Richie and the absurdity of their damaged personae as well. Or the moment near the end of the film when Stiller's Chas, a mountain of hyper-up, burning anger in a red tracksuit throughout the movie, suddenly switched emotional gears for a moment of final parting. I've never seen moments like these in any other movie.

Credit: Kent Jones, Film Comment

Film Site

- cast and crew
- awards & statistics
- references & spoofs
- script
- press kit
- locations
Family Album
Music Room

The Royal Tenenbaums soundtrack

Get the latest site news & updates. Go to the Yankee Review website(for subscription options and archives.

The Royal Tenenbaums Criterion Collection

The Web
The Academy

Our entire website is archived at Google!





Site content and design © 2000-2007
Some rights reserved (click for license).
This site is not sponsored or endorsed by any motion picture company.