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"The Royal Tenenbaums"

Directed by Wes Anderson.
Written by Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson. 
Starring Gene Hackman, Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson and Gwyneth Paltrow.
Release Year:  2001 
Review Date:  12/22/01 


In an effort to see 75 films before the year is out, I have some work to do.  So, almost anything goes as I try to see a film a day until the end of the year.

Tonight, I caught the new Wes Anderson film "The Royal Tenenbaums" over at the local multiplex, and after Anderson's previous effort "Rushmore", I was pretty psyched for this one.  It is those expectations plus the actual film itself that bring this one somewhere between "Rushmore" and Anderson's first film, "Bottle Rocket."

Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman, in his third film in three months) is dying...or, so he tells his estranged family, which includes his wife (Anjelica Huston) and three children, sporty Richie (Luke Wilson), smarty Chas (Ben Stiller) and smoker Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow).  Royal's dying wish is to spend more time with the family that he has blown off for much of the last 20 years, and the family isn't too keen on spending time with a man that no one seems to love anymore.  This is how the story goes through the first half, and the second part of the film deals with the dramatic elements of a man that is dealing with a family that has plenty of problems without him.

The strength of this film is clearly its cinematography; Anderson does a good job of keeping all of his actors in perfect frame, in perfect lighting, with a picture-perfect house that serves as the backdrop for much of the film.  His soundtrack is always appropriate for the situation at hand, and his ridiculously-talented cast seems to fit the part everywhere you turn.  In addition to the principal cast, support from co-writer Owen Wilson and Danny Glover is very good.

At times, this movie was hilarious.  In fact, I can easily narrow that down to most of the first half of the film.  And, every time that Hackman is on screen.  He is great in this film.  And, whether he is being a racist, a bastard, or just a plain old asshole, it works every time.  But, there is a point in the film where things get decidedly dramatic (you will know the moment I speak of when you see the film), and personally, that is where the movie took its downturn for me.  I could see that drama would be coming sooner or later, but the way the film throws it at you, you are kind of like, "Whoa, partner, slow down here!"  Whereas "Rushmore" got better and better up to a blowout conclusion, "The Royal Tenenbaums" gets away from its strengths in the last half-hour (namely, Hackman and Stiller) and delves into a relationship that is brewing amongst a couple of the lead characters.

Also, the star turn that Murray provided for "Rushmore" is the opposite of what he provides to "The Royal Tenenbaums"--much to my friend Mike "Yac" Iacovone's dismay, he is useless in this film.  I don't think I laughed one time when he was onscreen, and he was often upstaged by a mentally-impaired teenager.  Plus, while Luke Wilson and Paltrow play their parts well, they are *boring*, so we are left sometimes to see one or the other go about their business, and we the audience get bored along with them!  I don't know if this was the idea, but the dynamic in this movie sometimes is non-existent.

I wanted this movie to be better, and it just wasn't.  From talking to my friends Dan and Melissa after watching it, they were of similar opinion.  My suggestion?  Go rent the superior "Rushmore" instead.

Rating:  Matinee


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09