"A Royal Bummer"
What You Need To Know:
Due to its nudity, sexual immorality, substance abuse, graphically depicted suicide, and wasted, lame attempt at dark humor, MOVIEGUIDE® cannot recommend THE ROYAL TENNENBAUMS for any audience
(RoRo, HoHo, Ab, LL, VV, SS, NNN, AA, DDD, MMM) Romantic worldview containing strong lesbian scene & anti-biblical elements with horrible, dysfunctional parenting, extreme dishonoring of parents, & almost all choices made from the emotion of the moment; 12 obscenities & 3 profanities; one instance of graphic suicide violence where man slices his arms; numerous allusions to & depictions of adultery, plus homosexual content & incestuous elements regarding adopted sibling; partial & full frontal nudity portrayed on poster & lesbian scene portrayed with frontal nudity; alcohol use & abuse; smoking portrayed in almost every scene & graphic drug abuse; and, depictions of betrayal & deceit, themes of teenage disrespectfulness & parental negligence, stealing, gambling, vandalism, & brother falls in love with adopted sister.
THE ROYAL TENNENBAUMS is the story of a man named Royal (Gene Hackman), a rich, infamous shady attorney who has long since abandoned his wife (Angelica Huston) and his three child prodigy children, Chas, Margot and Richie. The now-widower, Chas (Ben Stiller), was a successful small businessman by the middle of elementary school and is now breeding Dalmatian mice and selling real estate. His father is disbarred and imprisoned when Chas rats on his shady legal practices. Chas then buys his dad’s summer home, where he raises his two sons and grieves over his late wife.
Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow), a published writer by nine, is continually reminded that she was adopted, and she is often left out of family outings and kept in the dark about information. She begins smoking and wearing heavy makeup at a young age. She’s now married to a strange psychiatrist, Raleigh St. Clair (Bill Murray), whom she does not love, nor can she find any reason to be faithful to him.
Richie (Luke Wilson) is a has-been tennis star, now living his life on various ships, but madly in love with Margot. The ex-wife, Etheline Tennenbaum (Anjelica Huson) is an archaeologist who is contemplating marrying her accountant, Henry Sherman (Danny Glover), a boring, nondescript, ageing man whom she has chosen because he is the opposite of Royal.
Royal’s sudden announcement that he is dying brings the whole family back under one roof. He’s faking the illness and is only back home to leech off the family, and, way secondarily, to try and pull them together for the first time. He is extremely insensitive and rude, though, and he continually hurts his children. He asks Richie why he choked during his final national tennis match, he lets Margot know that he doesn’t even know her middle name, and he acts completely cavalier about the recent demise of Chas’s wife. The whole family hates him, and it seems rightly so.
Royal makes some feeble and insincere attempts at familial relationships, but he is so bad at this, and it’s way too late. He takes his grandchildren out for a day and teaches them to steal, vandalize and bet at the dog races. He calls the black Sherman “Coltrane,” after the famous black jazz musician and laughs when anyone tries to challenge his ways.
The family discovers that a childhood friend, Eli Cash (Owen Wilson), is having an affair with Margot. This news particularly enrages Richie, who attempts a very bloody suicide. Despite his obvious jerkiness, Royal continues to expect open-armed acceptance. It doesn’t work.
Finally, he makes some half-hearted attempts at reconciliation – including buying the grandchildren a new dog, supporting Richie’s decision to pursue a romantic relationship with his adopted sister, and admitting, when caught, that he had lied about the terminal illness. The family is finally hammered into a strange acceptance of their father and a genuine attempt at functional relations.
This movie is so dark and strange. It has the same theme that HEARTS IN ATLANTIS, LIFE AS A HOUSE and MY FIRST MISTER have. Simply put, it is “I wanted a good father!” Gene Hackman’s character is so miserable as a human being that you never like him and you never root for him. This is a major film-school flaw: you have to like the protagonist a little bit to have a good movie! This guy doesn’t ever truly change, either. He’s still a lying jerk to the very end!
The movie is really not that funny, either. Sure, there are a few good moments, but one would expect so much more from the comedic talents of Ben Stiller, Bill Murray and Anjelica Huston. They all would bring more to the party with a better-written script, of course.
Other irritating aspects of the film included the grainy, brownish-yellow tint to everything, the ugly, gaudy, 1970s sets, and several strange camera moves, like the fast zooms reminiscent of those done in the 1960s. The music included the Beatles, Nick Drake, The Ramones, and Elliot Smith, and it was only semi-irritating.
For those with father issues, this story doesn’t help, and for those who will go for the laughs, it will be a sore disappointment. Due to nudity, sexual immorality, drug abuse, depicted suicide, and the wasted, lame attempt at dark humor, MOVIEGUIDE® cannot recommend THE ROYAL TENNENBAUMS for any audience.