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Film / The Royal Tenenbaums

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Royal Tenenbaum: You know, Richie, this illness, this closeness to death... it's had a profound affect on me. I feel like a different person, I really do.
Richie Tenenbaum: Dad, you were never dying.
Royal Tenenbaum: But I'm going to live.

The Royal Tenenbaums is a 2001 comedy-drama film directed by Wes Anderson and written by Anderson and Owen Wilson, and probably the first Wes Anderson film to really hit the mainstream.

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. Is now widowed and raising his two sons on his own.
    • 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 film 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.

It also functions as a kind of sister movie to Anderson's later project The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, which has nearly identical cast and a similar (though much more dreamlike) atmosphere.

Provides examples of:

  • Accidental Murder: Eli accidentally runs over Chas' 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.
  • An Insert: The hand that is seen with the BB lodged between its knuckles is not Ben Stiller's, but Andrew Wilson's, Owen and Luke's brother. When they were children, Owen fired a BB gun at Andrew's hand and the BB has been there ever since.
  • 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.
  • 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 to patch things up with his family, even when it comes to light he doesn't actually have cancer. Chas bonds with him, Margot writes again, Henry and Etheline marry, and Richie finally acts on his romantic love for his adopted sister. The film ends with Royal's death and funeral, and even Eli and Henry act as pallbearers.
  • Bullying the Dragon: Royal's attempts to antagonize and bully Henry out of the house royally backfire when Henry reveals his deceased wife died of stomach cancer so he easily calls his bluff.
  • Creator Cameo: Anderson is the voice of one of the announcers at the tennis match Richie tanks early on (Jason Schwartzman is the other voice).
  • Do You Think I Can't Feel: Raleigh seems to be as emotionless as Margo, focused on his scientific experiments with a young adult who lives with them. Then he finds out via a private investigator that she's kept so many secrets, including her smoking habits, previous marriage, and numerous affairs. Cue Raleigh curling up on the couch in Heroic BSoD. Later, he tells off Margo for making him a cuckold and being unwilling to open up to him.
  • Dysfunctional Family: The Tenenbaums are one of the most prominent examples of this trope in a Wes Anderson film. Their closest family friend isn't much better off and was always desperate to be part of the family anyway. Etheline's new paramour is the only one Henry bringing some much-needed stability to the Tenenbaum household.
  • Emasculated Cuckold: Raleigh outright uses this term when confronting Margot for her affairs, after he spent the day on the couch. He says if there were problems with their relationship, she didn't need to cheat on him for that.
  • Emotionless Girl: Margot keeps her feelings hidden from absolutely everyone, including her husband.
  • Eye Scream: Downplayed. When Chas is chasing down Eli for killing Buckley, Richie attempts to break up the fight, leading to Chas elbowing him in the eye. This is revealed to inflict only minor damage on Richie's cornea, but we still see him wearing protective gauze and a special pair of glasses with a darkened lens over his injured eye.
  • 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' safety deposit box, and the latter sued him for it.
  • Firehouse Dalmatian: Towards the end, Royal saves his grandsons Ari and Uzi from getting run over by a stoned Eli. When firemen respond to the scene, they bring along a Dalmatian named Sparkplug, and Royal buys him for the boys.
  • First Father Wins: Royal patches up his relationship with the kids, but doesn't remarry his ex though.
  • Fingore: The top half of Margot's right ring-finger was accidentally cut off during her stay with her biological family. It was replaced with a wooden prosthetic, and led to a consequential alteration of her gloves.
  • Foot-Dragging Divorcee: Royal and Etheline never actually divorced, though at the start of the film they haven't seen each other for years. One of the things Royal does to make amends to his family in the end is present Etheline with divorce papers so she and Henry can get married.
  • From Bad to Worse:: 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.
  • Funny Background Event: Eli's bizarre artwork hanging on his walls during his conversation with Richie.
  • Genius Burnout: an entire family of them: Etheline raises her children to be focused on achievement, which ends up crippling their personal lives. Financial whiz Chas succeeds in business as a teenager, but is overcome by paranoia after his wife's death; Playwright Margot loses her inspiration and cheats on her husband with a long string of men (and women); and tennis champ Richie can't overcome his feelings for Margot (his adopted sister), and tanks his entire career after she marries. They eventually find redemption with help from their ne'er do well father Royal (himself a once-successful lawyer who got disbarred and briefly incarcerated).
    Narrator: All memory of the brilliance of the young Tenenbaums had been erased by two decades of betrayal, failure and disaster.
  • Glory Days: The Tenenbaums were once a famous super-family, but now they're faded has-beens.
  • Good-Times Montage: A montage is showing Royal and his two grandsons spending a day together and having lots of fun.
  • Guess Who I'm Marrying?: Chas and Royal have a problem with Etheline's upcoming marriage, as part of both of them having problems moving forward with their lives.
  • 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 playing on this - his wife's death has clearly affected him deeply and made him overprotective, but he doesn't seem openly depressed. He becomes this for a few minutes after chasing down Eli for running down his dog.
  • Hypocrite: Royal is enraged at the idea of Etheline hooking with Henry behind his back, even though he admits to Padgoda that he has had girlfriends behind Etheline's back.
  • 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.
  • Interrupted Suicide: Just as Richie has shaved and slashed his wrists, Raleigh's test subject comes into the bathroom. He gets help and runs with him on a stretcher into the hospital, looking more concerned than he has for all of the film.
  • Ironic Echo: On learning of Margot's many, many, many infidelities, Raleigh can only respond with a stunned declaration about how "she smokes", something else she kept from him. Later, after confronting Margot in the wake of Richie's suicide attempt, Raleigh asks her for a cigarette. Stunned, Margot responds with "You don't smoke." Raleigh bitterly retorts "I know that."
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Royal is undeniably a selfish, neglectful, irresponsible and insensitive jerk who is absolutely not a great father or husband. But at the end of the day, he is a lonely man who does genuinely love his family and many of the things he does are driven by a legitimate desire to be with that family again. He eventually patches things up with them by the end.
  • Limited Wardrobe: One of the few live-action examples. Every Tenenbaum child has a uniform that doesn't really change throughout the film/their entire lives. Chas' 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.
  • Not His Blood: The father gets all worked up over one of the kids having blood on his forehead. It turns out to be dog blood.
  • Must Make Amends: Royal 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.
  • 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 having control over his businesses while he was still a minor, and seems to harbor the most resentment towards 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. He spends several weeks making amends to his family, including his ex-wife, and takes Chas with his grandsons on exciting outings. Then he develops a heart attack, dying in the ambulance. By then, however, everyone visits his grave.
  • 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, like Margot.
  • Spiritual Sequel: The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.
  • Taking the Bullet: Chas' sons Ari and Uzi reveal that Buckley, their dog, stood in the way before Eli could run them down at the wedding. Sadly, this ends up killing Buckley.
  • 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 Charlie Rose interviews with Wes Anderson & Bill Murray. During the course of both interviews, invoked Rose repeatedly states the main character's motivation as wanting his face on Mount Rushmore.)
  • Teen Genius: All three Tenenbaum children are deconstructions - they peaked early, and their personal problems have far outweighed their given talents in adult life.
  • The Unfavorite: Margot, who is never allowed to forget that she's adopted, and that she's not a "real" member of the family. Which backfired right into her and Richie falling in love, as they never felt like "real" siblings.
  • 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.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Raleigh confronts Margot for keeping all her secrets from him and making him into a Cuckold. She visibly has no response but looks apologetic.
  • Where da White Women At?: Henry and Etheline- according to Royal and Pagoda, anyway. Nobody else reacts according to this trope.
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: Royal fakes stomach cancer in order to reconnect with his family. Henry finds out it's a lie with little difficulty.


Video Example(s):


Every Wes Anderson Film

This Honest Trailer points out the structural similarities of Wes Anderson's films.

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