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The Royal Tenenbaums

movie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: The Royal Tenenbaums

Starring: Gene Hackman, Anjelica Huston
Director: Wes Anderson
Rated: R
RunTime: 108 Minutes
Release Date: December 2001
Genre: Comedy

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent alienation--or so says Wes Anderson in his new, imaginatively told and generally absorbing movie "The Royal Tenenbaums" which he co-wrote with one his stars, Owen Wilson. Yet another tale of family dysfunction done with arthouse stylization, the film sports dialogue as slow and imprecise as the colloquy in Steven Soderbergh's "Ocean's 11" is snappy and meticulous. Despite the contemporary shape that director Anderson's gives to "The Royal Tenenbaums," the picture unfolds in an old- fashioned literary style, each chapter clearly separated by the introduction of the novel, advanced crisply by Alec Baldwin's crystalline but overly frequent narration.

What unfolds is a family that could have marketed the most popular lines of a song from "Damn Yankees," given its keynote message "Oh, it's fine to be a genius, of course, but keep that old horse before the cart;/ First you've gotta have heart." Despite the name of the paterfamilias of a family unit which had an abundance of potential, there is nothing majestic in the way the troupe wind up just twenty-two years after the brood matures and plods through life either listlessly or with an occasional dollop of malice aforethought.

Anderson opens on the title figure, Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman), a once-successful lawyer describing himself as "one- quarter Hebrew and three-quarters mick Catholic"--which probably accounts for the naming of two of his grandchildren "Ari" and "Uzi" to say nothing of a family falcon named Mordecai. Royal, whose wife Etheline (Anjelica Huston) has chucked him for reasons unknown, has helped raise a family of prodigies, successful early-on as children with financial aptitude (Chas, played by Ben Stiller) and stunning ability with a tennis racket (Richie, played by Luke Wilson). His adopted daughter (Gwyneth Paltrow), whom he regularly introduces as "my adopted daughter Margot," is a playwright whose schoolgirl writing talent dwindles as she approaches maturity. Other relationships are effortlessly introduced: Raleigh St. Clair (Bill Murray) as Margot's neurologist husband, Eli Cash (Owen Wilson) as one of Margot's previous lovers, and Henry Sherman (Danny Glover) as Etheline's tax adviser and suitor. In short, all in the Tenenbaum family circle have worked with their intellect, though the lack of heart, or soul, or just plain sanity has played havoc with their potential.

Anderson milks both humor and pathos successfully for the most part, so that one could not be blamed for shedding a tear at the poignant conclusion of the movie while at the same time leaving with a smile. Each of us in an audience bound to be a primarily arthouse crowd is likely to relate personally to one of more of the characters, whether the object of connection is the father-hating Chas, the drug-taking novelist, Richie, or the phlegmatic Margot who is unhappily married and unsatisfied despite a succession of affairs with strange people from a Papuan tribesman to a New York freak with a Mohawk cut. More than likely you'll feel for Royal himself--a dad who has been to the heights, has come down with a thud, is terminally lonely and provides the center of the story as a man seeking redemption with his progeny. "The Royal Tenenbaums" may be too stylized for its own darn good, but given the plethora of films about dysfunctional families, Anderson's quirky story is distinctive and welcome.

Copyright 2001 Harvey Karten

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