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a home + living guide for the post-college, pre-parenthood, quasi-adult generation

07.25.2002

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flick pick | The Royal Tenenbaums 2001
Directed by: Wes Anderson
Written by: Wes Anderson, Owen Wilson
Starring: Gene Hackman, Anjelica Huston, Luke Wilson, Ben Stiller, Gwyneth Paltrow, Danny Glover, Owen Wilson
Language: english
Look for it at the video store under: comedy
Watch it when youíre in the mood for something:
artsy-fartsy, darkly comic, whimsical
The critic says: / 5 the rating system explained
Fun factor: /5

Plot synopsis Spurred by their hyper-involved mother, Etheline, the Tenenbaum children showed prodigious talent from an early age. Chas, the oldest, was the financial genius, Margot, the adopted daughter, a brilliant playwright, and Richie, the baby, a tennis whiz Ė but though all three lucked out in the talent department, they also shared one stroke of bad fortune: to be born the children of Royal Tenenbaum Ė disreputable lawyer, errant father, estranged husband, and self- acknowledged asshole. Fast-forward nearly two decades and the familyís early glories have long since tarnished. Chas finds himself coping with his wife's tragic death, obsessing endlessly over the safety of his two young boys, and expressing his sadness in the form of a continuous anger at the world. Margot, having grown up with a father who made it all too clear that he never thought of her as a "real" daughter, is completely unable to form emotional attachments with anyone, most especially her husband. And Richie, after an infamous public meltdown on the tennis courts, now floats about on an ocean liner, whiling away his days in foreign seas as he tries desperately not to think about the fact that heís in love with Margot. Royal, meanwhile, long since banished from the household and no longer allowed to practice law, has just run out of money, and thus been booted out of his hotel residence. With nowhere else to go, he returns to the family Ė most of whom are less than eager to embrace the patriarch with open arms.

Review Let me just make my biases clear: I am totally, completely enamored with Wes Andersonís work. And like most people in love, I find it near-to-impossible to see how the things I love so much about the directorís style tend to be the same things others hate. I love that weird combination of humor tinged with sadness that makes it so hard to tell whether you should laugh or cry; I adore his cockeyed view of the world, in which misfit people hide awkward feelings behind even more awkward words, and cynicism and optimism, absurdity and earnestness are all flip sides of the same coin; I want to live in his hyper-stylized universe of gloriously rich color fused with the charming clutter of faded objects of quirky beauty. Andersonís work has a distinct, eccentric personality to it, I suppose, and if you donít like that personality, you wonít like the films. And no question about it: The Royal Tenenbaums is more mannered and self-consciously, obsessively realized than Andersonís previous films, Rushmore and Bottle Rocket, combined. Every detail Ė from the clothes, to the music, to the wallpaper, ties in perfectly with the story, in a way that detractors tend to find annoyingly precious, but which makes me just feel happily immersed in the Tenenbaum universe, a sort of fairy-tale New York. What makes the extreme attention to minutiae work so well is that its cleverness never overshadows but instead adds to the real heart of the film: I donít love this movie because of the funny way the characters are dressed, or the loveliness of the sets, or the cool music; I love it because I love the characters, who, with all their flaws and weird personality quirks, end up seeming terribly real to me even when they look and sound anything but. Even when Iím laughing at them, I canít help but feel sad too, because beneath their jaded expressions and glib remarks, thereís always that undercurrent of hurt and longing, a need to be loved despite all thatís unlovable about each of them, a hope that theyíll be able to find that love through a family thatís provided their greatest disappointments. Every time I watch this movie Ė and itís been many; I canít get tired of it Ė I find myself snorting gleeful chuckles from start to finish. But whatís really weird is that the whole time Iím laughing, Iím this close to crying too. It gets me all emotional in a way that melodrama never could. And I love that.óreviewed by Y. Sun

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