A Royal Gala

Dysfunctional families have never looked so good.

"Family isn’t a word, it’s a sentence." And this isn’t simply a film; it’s a stylized experiment.

What a film! I mustn’t eulogize it, I know, but when the number of good films these days has dwindled to single digits, this is like oxygen on the moon.

It’s a fairly simple story. Told like most simple stories are - straight out of a book. Royal Tenenbaum is a wealthy barrister with three precocious kids and an equally prodigious wife. Expelled from his offices of husband and father because of his reprehensible ways, Royal is forced to live in the Lindberg Palace Hotel for twenty years, and loses all contact with his family. In the meanwhile, the kids have all grown up and are not doing as well as they’d be expected to, what with their history and all.

Richie Tenebaum (Luke Wilson), who as a child won three National Tennis Championships in a row; Chas Tenebaum (Ben Stiller), who earned his lucre buying real estate and selling his own breed of Dalmatian mice; and Margot Tenebaum (Gwyneth Paltrow), a playwright who won the Braverman Grant of $40,000...in the ninth grade - all three have somehow lost their lustre and are snared in their own discontent. When Royal is informed of a likely engagement between his wife and her accountant, Henry Sherman (Danny Glover), he fakes a fatal illness to redeem his rank in the household. With one son that wants him back, another that wants him out, and an indifferent daughter, Royal is reminded of his failings as a father, and tries making up.

Director Wes Anderson had already created before a similar film called "Rushmore", so he simply had to extend the theme to an entire family of four with this effort. Having co-written the script with actor Owen Wilson (who plays Eli Cash, Richie’s childhood crony), Anderson has crafted a picture that projects a dysfunctional family with all the awe-inspiring elements obvious to an exhibition. Muted colour tones and a daisy-chained score of aging rock songs dull all sharp edges, so no notion is incredible, no sight extraordinary in itself. You won’t blink at the Dalmatian mice, won’t think twice about Margot’s obsession with cigarettes or Richie’s obsession with Margot, and you will only raise an eyebrow at Chas and his two sons clothed in Adidas jumpsuits. Always.

Every disparity nailed to the script is sound, yet the humour they invent is restrained in its roles. And the odd bit is, even with dysphoria as the universal emotion here, the tension accumulated is vented in the unlikeliest methods. And who would believe that this cast, prominent for their history in comedies, could carry on for the most part in somber getups. Worth a look-see!

This article was first published on 04 Oct 2002.