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"The Royal Tenenbaums" Movie Review

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The gifted pair behind the critically acclaimed films "Bottle Rocket" and "Rushmore" return for their third collaboration, "The Royal Tenenbaums."

Director/writer Wes Anderson and writer/actor Owen Wilson take a twisted look at a bizarre dysfunctional family of geniuses in their new film, "The Royal Tenenbaums." Told by way of a narrator, the film is described by Anderson as a movie that is a book, rather than a movie based on a book.

The cast is an all-star conglomeration headed by Gene Hackman as the family's estranged patriarch, Royal Tenenbaum, and Anjelica Huston as his long-suffering archaeologist wife, Etheline. Luke Wilson, Ben Stiller, and Gwyneth Paltrow portray the highly intelligent, emotionally disturbed, Tenenbaum children.

Separated from his wife and children (a more warped batch of prodigies would be difficult to find), Royal's desire to reunite with his family after he's booted from his hotel room living quarters is rooted in his need for a place to live as much as his desire to make amends with his troubled children. The Tenenbaum children - geniuses all - are emotional basket cases. Royal's favorite son, and eldest child, Richie (Luke Wilson looking strikingly similar to Bjorn Borg), had a nervous breakdown during a nationally televised championship tennis match after seeing the love of his life - his adopted sister - in the stands with her new husband (Bill Murray). Richie loves Margot - and not in the brotherly sense of the word - as does Richie's best friend and across the street neighbor, Eli Cash (Owen Wilson). Self-destructing during the match, he later gives up tennis and sets out on a lonely voyage at sea. Middle child, Chas (Stiller), made his fortune developing and breeding Dalmatian mice and used his money from the mice to become a real estate tycoon while still in his teens. As an adult, Chas lost his wife in a plane crash, and now sees danger lurking around every corner for himself and his two Stepford Children-like sons. And, finally, there's the adopted daughter, Margot. Royal's constant reminders of her adoption combined with criticism and his lack of nurturing skills, caused Margot to have incredibly low self-esteem and set her on the path of sleeping with many, many men in her search for love and acceptance. A closet smoker since age 12, Margot's writing ability earned her a $50,000 grant while still a teen. As an adult, she's landed in an unsatisfying marriage where she's emotionally distant and still seeking lovers on the side.

Royal deceives his family into believing that he's been diagnosed with cancer and has just six weeks left to live. He finagles his way back into the family home, and intrudes upon the lives of his adult children (who are now basically strangers to him). Never officially divorced, Royal attempts to come between Etheline and her well-mannered, dependable beau, Henry Sherman (Danny Glover). Henry's the antithesis of Royal and Royal can't stand that Henry is more a welcomed part of his family, than he himself is.

Royal's attempts at garnering sympathy are met with opposition and distrust by all members of his family except for Richie and Chas' two curly-haired sons. Worming his way into their lives, he discovers that, despite himself, he did genuinely miss having been a part of each of their extraordinary lives.

Anderson and Wilson do a commendable job of showing that families are made up of individuals tied together by more than just blood. It takes more than mere words - or a few physical gestures - to make a family work. In "The Royal Tenenbaums," Anderson and Wilson allow personalities to evolve, allow bad guys to get second chances, and let love find its own unique path to heal wounds and mend hearts.

Overall Grade: A-

"The Royal Tenenbaums" is rated R for some language and sexual content.

Director: Wes Anderson
Producers: Wes Anderson, Barry Mendel, and Scott Rudin
Executive Producers: Rudd Simmons and Owen Wilson
Screenplay: Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson
Director of Photography: Robert Yeoman
Film Editor: Dylan Tichenor, A.C.E.
Production Designer: David Wasco
Music By: Mark Mothersbaugh
Costume Designer: Karen Patch
Casting: Douglas Aibel
Art Director: Carl Sprague

Royal Tenenbaum - Gene Hackman
Etheline Tenenbaum - Anjelica Huston
Chas Tenenbaum - Ben Stiller
Margot Tenenbaum - Gwyneth Paltrow
Richie Tenenbaum - Luke Wilson
Eli Cash - Owen Wilson
Raleigh St. Clair - Bill Murray
Henry Sherman - Danny Glover
Dusty - Seymour Cassel
Pagoda - Kumar Pallana
Narrator - Alec Baldwin
Ari Tenenbaum - Grant Rosenmeyer
Uzi Tenenbaum - Jonah Meyerson
Young Chas - Aram Asianian-Persico
Young Margot - Irene Gorovaia
Young Richie - Amedeo Turturro
Young Eli - James Fitzgerald
Dudley Heinsbergen - Stephen Lea Sheppard

Photos © 2001 Touchstone Pictures. All Rights Reserved.

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