Title: The Royal Tenenbaums

Year: 2001

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Director: Wes Anderson

Screenwriters: Wes Anderson, Owen Wilson

Casts: Gene Hackman, Anjelica Huston, Ben Stiller, Gwyneth Paltrow, Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, Danny Glover, Bill Murray

Language: English

IMDb Rating: 7.6

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 80%

Cute! This film is so cute that I was once again reminded that family “isn’t a word…it’s a sentence”. Not only is the Tenenbaum family way unique, the journey of Royal, the head of the family, of becoming a better father for his children—although he seems to fail to be a better husband for his wife (ex-wife, later on, yes, pretty much a spoiler), still—is also captivating. Fatherhood is not an easy assignment, my friend, for real…quite so!

The Tenenbaum family consists of Royal the thoughtless and indifferent father, Etheline the discreet mother, and three bright children: Chas, Margot, and Richie. Royal is a lawyer, while Etheline is both an author and an archaeologist. Meanwhile, their children have their own superb distinction—when the narrator introduces them one by one, Hey Jude plays in the background.

Chas is known for his terrific ability in finance and business at a very young age. He is also quite a scientist: breeding Dalmatian mice to be sold to a pet shop in Little Tokyo. His look resembles Etheline: curly brunette hair with a face of firmness. Chas has a pellet of BB gun inside his left hand from which it is knowingly shot by Royal when they have a shooting game back then.

Chas Tenenbaum
Chas Tenenbaum.

Margot, an adopted child, is a clever young playwright—I saw the books, she adores Anton Chekhov’s works—who wins an award worth $50,000. Royal always feels the need to impudently tell people that Margot is his adopted daughter. It appears that she frequently runs away from home; once she escapes with Richie and camps out at a museum, and some other time she disappears and comes back with half of her finger missing—I found out why next.

Margot Tenenbaum
Margot Tenenbaum.

Richie, the youngest child, is an extremely little tennis talent and a winner of a national championship three years in a row. He is also good at painting; he paints Margot very often and has those paintings displayed in the ballroom. It is obvious that he is Royal’s favourite child. He likes to bring Richie to dogfights while leaving out Chas and Margot.

Richie Tenenbaum
Richie Tenenbaum.

Etheline prioritises the children’s education above all. She writes a book about them entitled Family of Geniuses. Unfortunately, the potentiality and brilliance of the children have to be worn out due to the demolition of the family. Royal and Etheline are separating, though they have not legally divorced. Etheline keeps the house and raises the children alone.

The Tenenbaum children responding to the parting ways of their parents.
The Tenenbaum children responding to the parting of their parents.

There is also this little neighbour who lives across the street, a best friend of Richie, named Eli Cash. He always wants to be one of the Tenenbaums. Eli grows up to be a famous novelist and a drug user—also to look like that guy in Midnight in Paris and one of the screenwriters of this film…yes, Owen Wilson. Great job, dude. What.

Eli Cash
Eli Cash.

The Tenenbaum children grow up further becoming who they are. Chas is now a father of two sons named Ari and Uzi—with a very same haircut and in an identical red sport clothes. His wife dies from a plane crash which makes him overprotective towards his children ever since. The three of them live with a dog named Buckley—thanks to Royal for not bringing Chas to the dogfights. Margot, has not written a play in seven years, marries a neurologist named Raleigh St. Clair. She is still the same secretive Margot: locking herself up, spending most of the times in a bathtub, smoking and watching TV, even secluding herself from her husband. Richie goes away from home sailing in the ocean by a ship, along with the crew, after the tragic end of his tennis career—I found out why later. One time, he reveals that he is in love with Margot to Eli, with whom he has an affair.

Chas and his two sons, Ari and Uzi
Chas and his two sons at the grave of his wife.
Margot starts smoking at the age 12
Margot starts smoking at the age 12.
I love you, Richie (despite those dogfights...)
I love you, Richie (despite those dogfights…also, you are a great son and brother).

Etheline is still an independent woman and a responsible mother. She recently has been proposed by her accountant, Henry Sherman. She gives it a thought and seems to get immensely attracted to him as well. Later, she happens to gather all of the children back to live in the house. How about Royal the inconsiderate head of the family? He plans to get back together with Etheline and tries to ingratiate Chas, Margot, and Richie by manipulating a story that he has been terribly ill from a stomach cancer and is now dying. Among the three children, only Richie who still has the will to genuinely accompany Royal. Chas is still bitter to him—he does not even allow him to get close to Ari and Uzi—and Margot’s attitudes towards him also do not help. Anyway, Royal finally has a chance to live in the house and gets ‘a medical treatment’ (for only six days)—as Richie persuades Etheline, Chas, and Margot to allow him to stay—after seven years of having no contact with Etheline.

Royal trying to convince Etheline
Royal trying to convince Etheline.
Ari, Uzi, your dad won't like this!
Ari, Uzi, your dad won’t like this!
Royal and Henry having an argument
Royal and Henry having an argument.
Richie and Eli are still best friends in spite of everything
Richie and Eli are still best friends, in spite of everything.

So, will Royal beat Henry and win Etheline back? More importantly, will he develop a better relationship with his three children, even become a good grandfather for Ari and Uzi? Will those six days utterly change him as a person?

Family Is A Sentence

Although Margot does not explicitly show any concern to Royal, in one scene she appears to sit next to his bed and both of them watch TV (Eli’s interview, to be exact). I could understand it; she is aggrieved for being no more than an adopted daughter to Royal, for never being invited by Royal to visit her adoptive grandmother’s tomb since she is not her real grandmother, and that Royal does not really value her talent and works.

Royal: He’s not your father. *points at Henry who is standing next to Margot*

Margot: Neither are you.

Royal leaving the house as his play ends.

Meanwhile, Chas is the most resentful. The fact that Royal shoots him intentionally with the BB gun and steals money from his deposit box sickens him. It is hurtful to him that Royal cannot even remember his late wife’s name and does not care about his sons before. Also, he hates it that Royal and Richie are that close. Despite his older brother’s unfriendly behaviour, Richie is still attentive to him much.

Richie: He’s your dad, too, Chas.

Chas: No, he’s not.

Richie: Yes, he is.

Chas: You really hate me, don’t you?

Richie: No, I don’t, I love you.

Richie: Chas… I don’t want to hurt you. I know what you and the boys have been through. You’re my brother, and I love you.

Chas: Stop saying that!

Chas, you are so lucky to have Richie as your little brother!
Chas, you are so lucky to have Richie as your little brother!

With its fabulous narrative style and cinematography, which is very Wes Anderson and Robert Yeoman, The Royal Tenenbaums uplifts a family breakdown in a touching and witty way. There is this scene where Royal thanks Etheline for raising the children and taking them as her first priority. However, Etheline does not think that she makes it, refers to the lives of Chas, Margot, and Richie which encounter quite a psychological disturbance, either because of their broken childhood or the recent years they have been through. Still, it implies the loss of father-presence which has hugely affected the Tenenbaum children. Although the title of this post clearly gives another (big) spoiler, I still recommend you to see this film yourself if you have not—quite a serious appeal, yo![*]