The Easter holiday in normal times would be the ideal weekend for families to get together. Film has brought many family stories to the screen, but nothing like Touchstone Pictures 2001 film, The Royal Tenenbaums. Wes Anderson brings to life a complex and complicated family that will make you laugh, cringe, and cry.

The Plot

Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman) has spent years squandering his life away and being the worst father on the planet. After learning that his wife Etheline (Angelica Houston) is dating Henry Sherman (Danny Glover), Royal wants to win her back and reunite with his children, Chas, Margot, and Richie, (Ben Stiller, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Luke Wilson).

Pretending that he is dying, Royal moves back into the family home and begins to reconnect with his kids. They slowly warm to his presence, and Royal even gets to spend time with his grandkids. The ruse doesn’t last long, and Royal is thrown out of the house.

Forced to contend with the fact that he wasn’t a good father, and a lousy husband, Royal makes good on his desire for change. He gets a job and grants Etheline a divorce so she can marry Henry. When Eli Cash (Owen Wilson) crashes the wedding, Royal’s quick thinking saves Chas’s kids, and gains the respect of Chas and the rest of the family.

The road to redemption was a long journey for Royal Tenenbaum, but by the end of the film he has mended fences with his kids and accomplished what he wanted.

Cinematic Compliments

This film benefits from a phenomenal performance by Gene Hackman. He is brilliant as the sarcastic and ignorant Royal. The flashbacks show us how terrible of a father he was to the kids, but you can’t help but identify with and like Royal, even though he is awful. This empathy the audience has is a direct result of the talent that Gene Hackman used to make Royal Tenenbaum breath from Wes Anderson’s and Owen Wilson’s script.

Ben Stiller doesn’t get a lot of time to explore his arc, but the moments we see of the overprotective father are some of the best parts of the film. Having lost his wife in a plane crash Chas is paranoid about the safety of his kids. This is an emotionally fragile man who is struggling to stay afloat. When we see Chas connect with Royal at the wedding, that wall of security cracks and you might shed a tear at how Ben Stiller vocalizes what Chas has been feeling.

Cinematic Complaints

While I enjoyed the film, where the movie lost me was the developing relationship between Richie and Margot. Yes, they are not related by blood, but both characters were raised as brother and sister and no they should not have had a relationship. The fact that everyone seems to condone this drags down the film.

Everyone in the film other than Royal and Chas are cartoony flat characters that seem like they are working hard to act like they have no real emotions. I understand that this tends to be a hallmark of Wes Anderson films, I just wish we could have had more life in Gwyneth Paltrow’s Margot. She spends most of the film not blinking and staring off into the distance.

Bill Murray plays Raleigh St. Clair, the husband of Margot, and he is badly underused in this film. Never underuse Bill Murray. The man is a genius and for the few moments when he gets to be on-screen, he adds a unique spark to the family drama.

Fun Film Facts

  • Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson were nominated for an Oscar for the screenplay.
  • Gene Hackman won a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy for his portrayal of Royal Tenenbaum. He was also the recipient of multiple critical praise and awards from the National Society of Film Critics and the Chicago Film Critics Association Awards.
  • Alec Baldwin is the voice of the narrator.
  • Apparently, Gene Hackman thought the script hit a little too close to home. He believed that Royal’s poor parenting reminded him of his own failings as a parent. His family encouraged him to take the role.
  • While Anderson wrote the part of Royal with Hackman in mind, apparently there was tension on the set between the lead actor and director. Bill Murray would come to set on his days off just to alleviate any problems for Anderson when dealing with Hackman.

The Golden Popcorn Bucket Award

The Royal Tenenbaums gets a 2 Golden Popcorn Bucket rating. Gene Hackman and Ben Stiller are the only real human beings amongst the caricatures of the other characters. You should enjoy the film for the beauty that Hackman puts into his performance, but The Royal Tenenbaums is not a must see.

Coming Attractions

With the reopening of Disneyland at the end of April, next week we look back at one of the first film adaptations of a beloved Disney Parks attraction, Mission to Mars.

Production Credits

Directed by Wes Anderson

Produced by Touchstone Pictures

Starring:

  • Gene Hackman as Royal Tenenbaum
  • Angelica Huston as Etheline Tenenbaum
  • Luke Wilson as Richie Tenenbaum  
  • Gwyneth Paltrow as Margot Tenenbaum
  • Ben Stiller as Chas Tenenbaum
  • Luke Wilson as Eli Cash
  • Danny Glover as Henry Sherman
  • Bill Murray as Raleigh St. Clair          

Release Date: January 4, 2002

Budget: $21 million

Box Office Gross

Domestic: $52,364,010

Worldwide Total: $71,444,482