The Royal Tenenbaums

          Motion pictures are either made from original screenplays or
  adaptations of existing works, like a play or a novel. It's exceedingly
  rare for a movie to approach its subject matter as if it were a book,
  but that's just the approach that scripter-director Wes Anderson
  (working with writing partner Owen Wilson) took with his third feature,
  
THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS.

          Using a third person narrator (voiced by Alec Baldwin), the film
  claims to be a dramatization of a biography of an eccentric New York
  family, divided neatly into "chapters." Clearly influenced by authors J.D.
  Salinger, John Irving and Booth Tarkington (among others), Anderson
  and Wilson spin the tale of the Tenenbaums, a family of geniuses
  whose lives fall apart when paterfamilias Royal (Gene Hackman in a
  spirited turn) leaves. Up to that point each member had been something
  of an overachiever. Mother Etheline (Anjelica Huston) was an author
  and noted archeologist, oldest son Chas (Ben Stiller) proved a financial
  wizard, adopted daughter Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow), a kohl-eyed beauty
  with a penchant for wearing Fendi mink, was a successful playwright,
  and youngest boy Richie (Luke Wilson) had made his name as a rising
  tennis professional.

          Royal's departure, though, causes ripples that eventually turn
  into earthquakes. Chas seems to be the least affected, mainly because
  he fuels his life with a simmering anger directed at the old man. A
  widower with two young sons, he stages mock fire drills in an effort
  to stave off his fears. Margot, now married to a behavioral scientist
  (a somewhat underused Bill Murray), spends most of her time soaking
  in the bath and hiding her addiction to cigarettes. Richie seemingly
  threw away his career, literally giving up during a big match, and then
  opted to run away by traveling the world on an ocean liner.

          For his part, Royal spent over twenty years living rather high
  (except for a brief stint in the slammer brought on by a lawsuit filed
  by Chas), ensconced at the posh Lindbergh Palace Hotel. Now it
  seems, his credit has run out and the hotel staff can't wait to get
  rid of him. With nowhere to go, the ever resourceful Royal decides
  it's time for a reconciliation with his family. He's further spurred into
  action when his loyal servant Pagoda (Anderson staple Kumar
  Pallana) informs him that Etheline is considering a marriage proposal
  from her accountant Henry Sherman (Danny Glover).

          Royal concocts a far-fetched scheme to convince his family he's
  dying in the hopes they will take pity on him and allow him to return
  home. As the Fates would have it, each of the Tenenbaum children
  has also moved back into the family manse. With the family now
  living under one roof, situations are rife with possibilities. Unfortunately,
  Royal's scheme is uncovered, but not before he has had time to befriend
  his grandchildren and realize that he truly had come to miss his family.

          Some audiences may find Anderson's world a bit too precious
  and calculated. His sense of humor clearly won't appeal to all, but
  those who admired the talent he displayed in
BOTTLE ROCKET and
   
RUSHMORE will find much to enjoy. The faux New York he and
  collaborator Owen Wilson have created is a rich, fantastical one
  where gypsy cabs patrol the streets (as opposed to the ubiquitous
  yellow taxis of every other Manhattan-based movies) and people
  enjoy themselves at the 375th Street Y. The Tenenbaum home is
  a gorgeous old building that appears timeless (indeed, while the
  movie is more or less set in the present, there is a timeless quality
  to it so that the action could just as easily be occurring in the 1970s
  or the 2070s.)

          The cast is simply sublime. Hackman is excellent as Royal,
  imbuing the character with enough charm so that at his most
  exasperating, he remains likable. He's a scoundrel nonpareil and
  Hackman is at his comic best. Matching him is Anjelica Huston,
  who lets the audience see that no matter how much Etheline loved
  Royal despite his faults, she has come to the point in her life where
  taking a risk on a second chance for happiness is paramount.

          As the three Tenenbaum children, Ben Stiller, Gwyneth Paltrow
  and Luke Wilson all deliver stellar performances. Stiller has the
  most difficult role as the somewhat unlikable Chas, whose pent-up
  anger could easily boil over. Paltrow, using a deeper voice and
  deadpan delivery, is a delight as the depressed and repressed
  Margot. Luke Wilson, unrecognizable behind long hair and a shaggy
  beard is the most tortured of the Tenenbaum children and he
  is heartbreaking as Richie comes to terms with his life choices.(We
  learn he threw away his tennis career when the woman he loved
  married another man.)

          The supporting cast is also letter-perfect, with Danny Glover
  doing strong work as Etheline's suitor, Bill Murray as Margot's
  cuckolded husband and Owen Wilson as an out-of-control author
  and childhood friend of Richie's who always wanted to be a Tenenbaum.

          Anderson directs with a sure and steady hand and has laced the
  soundtrack with particularly appropriate music ranging from The Beatles'
  "Hey Jude" to The Rolling Stones' "Ruby Tuesday" to Paul Simon's
  "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard". The tech credits, particularly
  Robert Yeoman's superb cinematography and Dylan Tichenor's editing,
  are top-notch.



                
Rating:                 A-
                
MPAA Rating:        R for some language, sexuality/nudity
                                                   and drug content
                
Running time:        109 mins.
© 2005 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.