THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS is a spectacularly unfunny film -- a bomb of colossal
proportion from director Wes Anderson (RUSHMORE and BOTTLE ROCKET). The picture
is so misdirected, it's like boarding a plane for Hawaii and landing in Siberia.
The jokes are so astonishingly flat that one seriously begins to wonder if
Anderson is trying to invent a new comedy genre, where we neither laugh nor
smile, but instead admire how cleverly conceived each incident is.
The story concerns Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman), a weird man -- the adjective
is superfluous since everyone is weird in this story -- who has three child
geniuses: a playwright, a tennis star and a business mogul/inventor. Most of
the movie is set after the kids, Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow), Richie (Luke Wilson)
and Chas (Ben Stiller), have grown up. After leaving when the kids were young,
Royal returns to the household, falsely claiming to have only six weeks left to
live. Anjelica Huston plays his wife, Etheline. The plot proves as
uninteresting as the characters themselves. When one character attempts a gory
suicide, don't be surprised if you find yourself secretly rooting for him to
The movie's only good joke appears in trailers, but it's only funny because of
Hackman's reaction shot. The movie version, however, doesn't contain Hackman's
reaction, one supposes, to insure that nothing will spoil Anderson's new brand
of no laughs/no smiles comedy.
Paltrow plays a character with bad makeup and a zombie-like stare. I don't know
about the makeup, but most members of the audience will be like Margot, as they
stare with mouths open in disbelief that a movie with a cast this strong could
be this awful.
"What's so funny?" Margot asks Richie at one point. With an "I have no idea"
look, he shrugs his shoulders and rolls his eyes. You will be thinking the same
thing for almost two long hours. We had three generations of Rhodes's
discussing it in the family van on the way back. We rarely all agree on any
movie we see together, but this time there was universal disdain.
THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS runs 1:48. It is rated R for "some language,
sexuality/nudity and drug content" and would be acceptable for teenagers.
My son Jeffrey, age 12, hated the movie and gave it * 1/2. He liked the scene
of Royal hamming it up with his grandsons and wished that the rest of the movie
could have been as good.
Copyright © 2001 Steve Rhodes