Film: The Royal Tenenbaums

The Royal Tenenbaums is a 2001 dark comedy directed by Wes Anderson and written by Anderson and Owen Wilson.

Probably the first Wes Anderson film to really hit the mainstream, it was nominated for the Oscar for best original screenplay.

The Royal Tenenbaums is about the Tenenbaum family:
  • Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman): former lawyer. The patriarch, distant and boozing, treats his kids very inequally. Is separated from...
  • Etheline Tenenbaum (Anjelica Huston): archeologist. Spent most of her early life schooling her three genius children...
    • Chas Tenenbaum (Ben Stiller): Financial wizard. Went into business for himself at an early age selling Dalmatian mice. Had his father disbarred for stealing bonds out of his safety deposit box.
    • Margot Tenenbaum (Gwyneth Paltrow): Playwright. Known for her secrecy (isn't that an oxymoron?). Hasn't written a play in years. Spends most of her time smoking in the bathroom.
    • Richie Tenenbaum (Luke Wilson): Famous tennis player, known as The Baumer. Secretly in love with his adopted sister Margot. Very hairy and very sad.

Other important characters include:
  • Eli Cash (Owen Wilson): Richie's childhood friend. Now a famous author.
  • Raleigh St. Clair (Bill Murray): Margot's neurologist husband.
  • Henry Sherman (Danny Glover): The new object of Etheline's affection, also an accountant.
  • Pagoda (Kumar Pallana): The Tenenbaums' servant. He both saved and endangered Royal Tenenbaum's life.

The movie depicts Royal's attempts at getting closer to his family after failing to pay rent at the Lindbergh Palace Hotel. He fakes stomach cancer to gain their sympathy and access to the family home. Like most Wes Anderson films, it is marked with quirky sets and costumes, as well as much deadpan humor.

A kind of sister movie to Wes Anderson's later project The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, which has nearly identical cast and a similar (though much more dream-like) atmosphere.

Provides examples of:

  • Accidental Murder: Eli accidentally runs over Chas's dog. Chas doesn't take it well.
  • Actually Pretty Funny: Royal laughs when Margot recreates him treating her as The Unfavorite on the stage as part of his Must Make Amends.
  • Adult Fear:
    • Shortly after getting kicked out of your house for a very good reason, you find out that your favorite son attempted suicide, and you just barely catch him to talk about it. It's one of the few times in the movie that Royal is shown in a sympathetic light.
    • Chas is overly protective of his kids after his wife died, and naturally freaks out when one of them comes home with dog's blood after a day with royal. This comes to a head at the wedding, where Eli accidentally kills Chas, Ari and Uzi's dog.
  • Beard of Sorrow: Richie grew a beard after he has an emotional breakdown on the tennis court, and keeps it throughout the film to highlight his depressed nature. He shaves it right before attempting to kill himself. Afterwards things start to look up.
  • Bi the Way: Margot's background file shows that she had many lovers, one of whom was a woman.
  • Big Applesauce: Despite taking place in New York City, Anderson went to great lengths to avoid any major landmarks. There's a scene earlier in the film - when Pagoda and Royal meet in Battery Park - in which Pagoda blocks the Statue of Liberty.
  • Big Screwed-Up Family: But still managing to keep a Stiff Upper Lip about it.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Royal manages patch things up with his family, even when it comes to light he doesn't actually have cancer. Chas starts to bond with him, Margot starts writing again, and Richie finally acts on his romantic love for his adopted sister. (He only say as such to get his family to talk to him). However he later dies of a heart attack.
  • Black Comedy
  • Braids, Beads and Buckskins: Eli Cash.
  • Brother-Sister Incest: Subverted; ADOPTED sister.
  • Bullying The Dragon: Royal attempts to antagonize and bully Henry out of the house royally backfires when Henry reveals his deceased wife died of stomach cancer so he easily calls his bluff.
  • Bungled Suicide: Richie
  • Emotionless Girl: Margot.
  • Expy / Shout-Out: Word of God has it that Eli is a combined expy of authors Cormac McCarthy and Jay McInerney. Similarly, Margot's first husband - a Jamaican reggae musician named Desmond - is supposed to be reggae legend Desmond Dekker.
  • Film of the Book: The film's conceit is that it's based on a (nonexistent) best-selling book.
  • Financial Abuse: Royal was stealing money from Chas's safety deposit box, and the latter sued him for it.
  • First Father Wins: Royal patches up his relationship with the kids, but doesn't remarry his ex though.
  • Four-Fingered Hands: Margot, after an accident.
  • Gene Hunting: Margot attempts this at 14. It doesn't end well (see above).
  • Glory Days: The Tenenbaums were once a famous super-family, but now they're faded has-beens.
  • Guess Who I'm Marrying?: Only it's the ex-husband who has a problem with this more than the kids.
    • Chas is less than stoked, at first.
  • Handy Feet: A barefoot Margot uses her toes to turn a doorknob.
  • Heroic BSOD: May as well be Heroic BSOD: The Movie.
    • Richie hasn't played tennis since he lost a huge match the day after Margot married Raleigh.
    • Margot is this for most of the movie, and finally gets out of it after kindling a romantic relationship with Richie and Royal takes her out for lunch.
    • Chas is the inversion of this for most of the movie as an Overprotective Dad; he becomes this for a few minutes after chasing down Eli for running down his dog.
  • I Take Offense to That Last One: After a private detective reveals Margot's secrets, including numerous illicit affairs, Raleigh's first response is, "She smokes?"
  • Important Haircut: Richie cuts his hair and shaves in a detailed scene, and we're treated to one flash cut to his pre-shave appearance just before a suicide attempt
  • Insistent Terminology: Royal always introduced Margot as his adopted daughter.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Royal treads the line between this and full blown Jerkass.
  • Limited Wardrobe: One of the few live action examples. Every Tenenbaums child has a uniform that doesn't really change throughout the film/their entire lives. Chas's retirement of his wardrobe is a sign of character growth: Word of God says that he dressed himself and his sons in bright red track suits at all times so that if there was an emergency in a crowded place, they could spot one another easily. By retiring this, it shows he's going to stop being so overprotective of his kids.
  • Love Dodecahedron: Margot is desired by no fewer than three men in the movie itself, and we see flashbacks to several other failed relationships.
  • Narrator: The narration is by Alec Baldwin.
  • Not Blood Siblings: Deconstructed in that Richie still knows romantic feelings for Margot are unacceptable by society's standards, and his inability to deal with them or tell her how he feels contributes to his failing mental health. After Richie's suicide attempt she comes to realize how much she cares for him too, and they manage to become happy together.
  • Must Make Amends: Roy in the last third of the film. He finds a lawyer to finalize divorce papers with his wife, refers to Margot as his "daughter" and supports her writing a play about him, brings Chas along on his outings, and comforts Richie.
  • The Oner
  • Overprotective Dad: Chas, since his wife died.
  • Parental Favoritism: Richie is easily the favorite of the family. Royal told everyone he met Margot was adopted, and would introduce her as, "My adopted daughter." Chaz had money stolen from him by Royal several times, usually by way of Royal have contorl over his businesses while he was still a minor, and seems to harbor the most resentment to his father in adulthood. Richie got along well with Royal, who took him to (admittedly seedy) places around the city. When Royal comes back, Richie is the only one who hits it off with him right away, although Royal is a bit disappointed Richie lost his famous match (due to having placed a large bet that he'd win).
  • Present Day Past: The Tenenbaums are still stuck in the Seventies, their Glory Days. The soundtrack and their fashions reflect this.
  • Pretty in Mink: Margot. She always seemed to have a mink coat she would wear whenever she felt like it, even as a girl.
  • Redemption Equals Death: Though it takes a while for Royal to find out.
  • Scenery Porn: Every set is adorable and quirky.
  • Shout-Out: A brother and sister living in a museum (hiding inside, at night) is more-or-less the plot of E.L. Konigsburg's From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Minus the Squick, as it was a children's novel. Another literary reference: a character in J.D. Salinger's Franny and Zooey is endlessly in the bathtub, smoking. Wrong gender, though, to be like Margot. However, given the prominence in Salinger's fiction of child prodigies—and Manhattan as a setting—it seems unlikely to be coincidental.
  • Spiritual Sequel: The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.
  • Take That: Peter Bradley, the talk show host who interviews Eli badly, is based on Charlie Rose. (The Criterion edition DVD of Rushmore has among its bonus features Charley Rose interviews with Wes Anderson & Bill Murray. During the course of both interviews, Rose repeatedly states the main character's motivation as wanting his face on Mount Rushmore.)
  • Teen Genius: All three Tenenbaum children are subversions/deconstructions.
  • The Unfavorite: Margot, who is never allowed to forget that she's adopted, and that she's not a "real" member of the family.
  • Two Decades Behind: One can be forgiven for assuming the film takes place in the late '70s or early '80s, until the year "2001" is shown on Royal's tombstone.
  • Walking the Earth: Or sailing the Earth, which Richie did after he learned Margot was married.
  • Where Da White Women At?: Henry and Etheline
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: Royal fakes stomach cancer in order to reconnect with his family. Henry finds out it's a lie with little difficulty.
  • You're Not My Father: Royal pulls a variant on Margot, and gets it thrown back in his face.
    Royal: (talking about Henry) He's not your father.
    Margot: Neither are you.