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USA 2001
Directed by
Wes Anderson
110 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Drew Arthurson
3.5 stars

The Royal Tenenbaums

Synopsis: The three childhood prodigy Tenenbaum siblings: Ritchie (Luke Wilson), Chas (Ben Stiller) and Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow), all return to their family home in New York. Their father, Royal (Gene Hackman), has claimed he has only a short time to live and also moves back into the abode he was forced to vacate many years before, after separating from wife Etheline (Anjelica Huston). Thrown into the mix is Raleigh St Clair (Bill Murray), Margot's husband, Eli Cash (Owen Wilson), with whom Margot is having an affair, and Etheline's suitor, Henry Sherman (Danny Glover).

The cinematic landscape of Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson has been underpinned with an offbeat, eccentric sensibility, and could, perhaps, be likened to the world according to "Peanuts". In that world, Linus, Charlie & Co all exist within their own space, living out an existence unfettered by any external interruptions. The first two features from Anderson and Wilson, Bottle Rocket (1996), and Rushmore (1998), saw the emergence of a spirited, comedic partnership; one that achieved a minor masterpiece with the latter (a film that for my money ranks as one of the finest comedies of the last decade). Within that film's universe, the protagonist, Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman), and his cronies, carry out their rather remarkable lives. This reinterpretation of an individual's physical and mental landscape, is once again given prominence in the latest film from the aforementioned pairing, The Royal Tenenbaums.

The archetypal features of Manhattan have been re-written and re-defined. There's the Gypsy Cab Company, the Green Line Bus Company, elegant hotels, anonymous hospitals and apartment buildings, all of which exist within the Tenenbaum's New York, much akin to Jeunet's highly stylised representation of Paris in Amelie. The "Peanuts" effectextends to the characters themselves, who more or less appear in the same garb day after day. There's Chas, donned in a red Adidas tracksuit, Ritchie, in his leisure suits, tennis sweatbands and sneakers, Margot in her fur coat and so on.

The film is a remarkable amalgam of a darkish comedy, and wry human drama. It kicks off with a break-neck adumbration of the principal characters, and unfolds in a series of chapters, each one lovingly constructed and meticulously decorated with 1960s nostalgia (from the Stones & Nico tunes on the soundtrack, to the retro wardrobe). The casting alone makes this film a must-see. Gene Hackman even when he's doing it by the numbers or hamming it up for effect remains one of the most watchable actors on the circuit. Then there's Bill Murray, who gave a brilliant turn as the disenchanted, ex-Vietnam veteran-cum-steel-tycoon, Herman Blume, in Rushmore (1998). Throw in the likes of Ben Stiller, Anjelica Huston, Gwyneth Paltrow, Owen and Luke Wilson & Danny Glover, and it's clear from the get-go that this film is saturated in talent and does not intend to waste it.

With a nod to many films, in particular, the Orson Welles feature, The Magnificent Ambersons (1943), The Royal Tenenbaums is a rich, immensely enjoyable, comedy, and one that will undoubtedly stand up to a second viewing, and furthermore, is a sure bet as one of the films of the year..




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