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Movie Review

The Royal Tenenbaums

MPAA Rating: R for some language, sexuality/nudity and drug content
Very Offensive
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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Adult
Genre:
Comedy
Length:
1 hr. 43 min.
Year of Release:
2001
USA Release:
December 14, 2001
Relevant Issues
Cast of “The Royal Tenenbaums”
Featuring: Gene Hackman, Danny Glover, Anjelica Huston, Bill Murray, Gwyneth Paltrow
Director: Wes Anderson
Producer: Wes Anderson, Barry Mendel, Scott Rudin
Distributor: Touchstone Pictures

Here’s what the distributor says about their film: (from the producer) Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman) and his wife Etheline (Anjelica Huston) had three children—Chas (Ben Stiller), Richie (Luke Wilson) and Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow)—and then they separated. Chas started buying real estate in his early teens and seemed to have an almost preternatural understanding of international finance. Margot was a playwright and received a Braverman Grant of fifty thousand dollars in the ninth grade. Richie was a junior champion tennis player and won the U.S. Nationals three years in a row. Virtually all memory of the brilliance of the young Tenenbuams was subsequently erased by two decades of betrayal, failure, and disaster. Most of this was generally considered to be their father’s fault. “THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS” tells the story of a family’s sudden, unexpected reunion one recent winter.


Viewer Comments
Negative—This movie was probably one of the most depressing and morally corrupt as I have ever seen. To see these fine and talented actors stoop to perform in this movie was shocking.
My Ratings: [Extremely Offensive / 5]
—Randy, age 50
Positive—This is easily one of the better movies of a rather dismal movie year. There isn’t much of a story here, as it is a very character-driven film. These characters, each with his or her own eccentricities, are, on the surface, not the most realistic. However, if one goes deeper, one finds that their emotional reactions to situations couldn’t be more human. The primary themes of this film, in this reviewer’s eyes, are those of rejection, acceptance, and, above all, loneliness. Almost every character, despite the fact that they’re all in the same family, feels disconnected from the others. And those that do feel accepted by some are often resented by those that are not. I’m trying to speak as vaguely as possible, hoping that whomever may be reading this will be able to pick up on these themes themselves, without me having to point out which character is feeling which emotions. Anyway, this film does have some offensive material in it. There is some profanity, as well as a couple shots (one rather extended) of nudity. Despite these, however, the film is an excellent study of human relationships and the amount of thought that must go into maintaining them.
My Ratings: [Very Offensive / 4½]
—Tyler Smith, age 20
Positive—This movie had everything… dark-comedy, a good screenplay, great actors and an amazing film crew. Many people have submitted reviews, so I won’t bore you with an explanation of the plot. There are some scenes that may be offensive to fundamentalist-type Christians (I am a religious studies graduate and a former Baptist). …Like many films made in Hollywood, some things need to be taken with a grain of salt. If you aren’t the type of person that can handle controversial topics then you should stay away from independent films altogether. Overall, I think The Royal Tenenbaums was brilliant and is worth seeing solely for the Hindu housekeeper, Pagoda (Kumar Pallana). He was hilarious!
My Ratings: [Average / 4½]
—Mary Mataragas, age 28, non-Christian
Positive—One of the best films of the year! I have seen it three times already. I absolutely loved it. There was only one scene that was offensive, and it was a brief lesbian scene that only lasted about 10 seconds. The rest of the movie was great! Go see it. Very entertaining and original!
My Ratings: [Average / 5]
—Adam, age 19
Negative—I’m a 17 year old girl and consider myself to be pretty open minded when it comes to movies especially since I work in the Hollywood industry. However, I must say that I am appalled to see the comments left on this page. I saw this movie having no idea it was rated R, which was my own mistake and I regret have thrown away 8 bucks and 2 hours on probably the worst movie I have ever seen. it’s my job to watch movies and see a “wide range” of material but although Tenenbaums claims to be a comedy, nothing in it was funny at all. I think I chuckled once or twice and that was about it. My last 9 hour plane ride was less boring than this movie. Now, put all that aside and I can say that as a Christian and a moral person at all, I was completely put off by the full-frontal nudity, the language and the crude sexual humor and everything else in this movie that makes it rated R. It was filthy and I can’t imagine sitting through it again…
My Ratings: [Extremely Offensive / 4]
—Amanda Drake, age 17
Positive—Someone has said that comedy is simply tragedy retold. [This film] certainly brings to life that notion. Seldom has a movie worked so successfully on these two very different levels. …At the beginning of the film we watch as the three tender young siblings are notified by their father Royal Tenebaum (Gene Hackman) that their fashionable baby-boomer parents are calling it quits.

“Is it because of us?” ask his three innocents. “Well, having kids certainly has meant us making certain sacrifices,” answers the cluelessly blunt Papa Royal. And so indeed it does. Sacrifices that few baby-boomers have been willing to make. “The Royal Tenenbaums”—while hilarious in the tradition of Anderson’s other movies “Rushmore” and “Bottle Rocket”—is a touching and poignant indictment of one of the most self-centered generations in history. A generation that thought parenting could be a part-time job that should allow both parents to pursue enriching careers, no-fault divorces filling their children’s empty lives with ballet classes, Tae Kwon-Do and trendy Montessori schooling.

The result has been a generation “X” of young adults emotionally ill-equipped to face life and its challenges. Each of Royal and Etheline’s children, although former child prodigies are discovered in the opening chapter of the movie in their early thirties still struggling with their inner-demons. Adopted daughter Margot (Paltrow) is a conflicted nymphomaniac who has hidden her smoking from all of her family, including her aging psychologist husband (Bill Murray). Like Adam and Eve hiding their nakedness, Margot busies herself hiding the least of her sins. Richie (Luke Wilson) is a washed up tennis superstar who pines for the sister he cannot possess like some character in a Greek play. Chas (Ben Stiller) is a brooding young widower who fears that his children will also be tragically snatched away from him. But the central character in the film is the conniving, self-absorbed Royal Tenenbaum who reenters his family lives feigning a fatal illness. What makes this character so touching is that he is so blatantly incorrigible, so ridiculous and, sad to say, so very real. He has found himself jobless and penniless like the shrewd steward in Jesus’ parable. And he uses his cunning to try to worm his way back into his abandoned family’s lives.

What Royal soon discovers in his charade is that he truly is at his happiness trying to be the one thing he never wanted to be. Their father. Gene Hackman’s performance is truly something wonderful. Never has a character been so simultaneously revolting and endearing. Importantly, this is a movie about family. And that means baring all the warts and failures that are found in even the best Christian homes. Clearly, this is a movie that is likely to offend good many of my readers. It is not rated “R” without reason. The movie is replete with nudity, adultery, lesbianism, drugs and profanity. But in the final analysis, “The Royal Tenenbaums” is a story every Christian should be able to relate to. For it is a story about a man who is incapable of being anything more than the scoundrel that he is—a scoundrel who has come to the end of his path and desperately wants another chance. It is a story of redemption.
My Ratings: [Average / 4½]
—Artie Megibben, age 48
Negative—This movie is incredible for its ability to portray all immoral and offensive aspects of life imaginable within a 90-minute timeframe. Homosexuality, suicide, and drug abuse are only a few of the items revealed in this movie. The movie begins when Royal (Hackman), finds out that his wife is thinking about remarriage. Who knows why, but suddenly he comes to the conclusion he wants his family back. Only Hollywood, would give the solution he decides upon—lying to his family. No sooner does he do that, than we are introduced to his three children. Margot (Paltrow) is a dark and gloomy figure, who treats her husband like garbage, is seen with a naked woman in a homosexuality scene, and gets involved with her brother (through adoption) in a romantic way. Richie (Wilson), the other part in Margot’s incestuous relationship, is also a gloomy, if not hyper-sensitive figure who decides suicide is his best option in dealing with Margot. The third, and perhaps least screwed up child of Royal’s is Chas, a paranoid and unforgiving son. Amidst the numerous negative messages in this movie, any good point is covered and shrouded by negativity. it’s unrealistic, there’s no real message, and it doesn’t even come close to the virtuous and lovely things that the apostle Paul teaches should fill the Christian mind.
My Ratings: [Very Offensive / 3]
—Heather Sonmez, age 20
Positive—I have been planning to see this film since I first saw the trailer months ago. I’m already a huge fan of the Wilson brothers, especially Owen’s writing, and Anderson’s directing is always amazing. This is not a failed comedy, but a drama that makes you laugh. Most of the humor is aimed at the non-conventional movie viewer. This is a story of how our actions affect everyone around us. It is especially a character study. The best performances come from Luke Wilson and Ben Stiller, particularly since Stiller’s only chance to truly express Chas’s depth was in one line near the end. This film is perfect in consistency and costume, and I loved the colors. The cinematography is unique. The meaning of the film is discovered more and more as you look into it—love, forgiveness, loss, and a new starts. It reminds me in many ways of the Glass family from Salinger’s stories, from the child prodigy aspect to the bathtub conversation. One can even find symbolism in the yellow of Richie’s tent…
My Ratings: [Average / 4½]
—Donna, age 19
Positive—I felt that many of the comments in the other reviews were fairly biased. I mostly speak of the comments towards the characters lack of reality. Of course, they aren’t real and that’s what’s supposed to make them interesting, not that everyone will. If every movie was a based on realism then you’d have no variety. I love the fact that there are few movies that are solely based on realism. It makes them experience much more interesting. Then he went on to compare the movie to a completely different movie. The two movies you compared, Tenenbaums and Bedroom, are two very different movies that have no reason being in the same sentence, and the analyzing the two together is absurd. Another person says that there was no substance to the movie. There are many layers to this movie. They aren’t outright obvious or spoon fed to you. they’re in a pause, a line, a look, an angle of a shot. Really, in the end, it’s just your opinion, and mine, too. I didn’t rate this film as being very offensive because I myself am not easily offended. This is why I do not speak for everyone. From what I’ve read there are some people who are very offended by this, which is why I have taken them into consideration. When I read of the “lesbian scene” I was confused; “Where was a lesbian scene?” Then I realized; “Oh that 5 seconds.” Basically one woman kisses another woman who’s shirt is removed, then it’s over just as quickly as it began. The most disturbing moment in the movie is the attempted suicide because of its placement. I myself enjoy watching things that disturb me because they make me question myself as well as the world around me. I guess that’s the best way to describe it. I feel that people should try and be open to everything, but some people aren’t and I can accept that. When it comes to comedy, it’s all a matter of taste. I can’t guarantee if you would think it was funny or not, so that’s just all up to you. Wes Anderson’s sense of humor is bizarre when compared to others which is what I enjoy. Never once did I really care about connecting with the characters. I observed them rather than connected. In fact, I wouldn’t want to connect with people like this. My position was as the observer and I had a fun time just doing that. For your sake I’ll wrap it up. it’s a bizarre comedy with above average writing, acting, and directing. I can’t leave out the good soundtrack either. It all comes down to taste and opinion. I feel that movies that disturb you have more to them and teach you more, but then again; you might not feel the same way.
My Ratings: [Average / 4]
—John Doe, age 22
Neutral—Already being a huge fan of Wes Anderson’s other movies(“Rushmore” and “Bottle Rocket”), I have been excited to see this film for quite a while, but was rather disappointed with what I found. While the Royal Tennenbaums was an extremely well-acted and clever script, it seems to be far too broad in scope to have the charm and sincerity of a movie like “Rushmore”. What the movie does exceptionally well is tell a very sad story of a very dysfunctional family, but co-writers Anderson and Wilson’s light-hearted oddness and enjoyable wit seem misplaced in such a depressing story. And, considering the film’s expanse of sadness, it ends with a rather sugary hope that feels forced. In terms of offensiveness, I would like to clarify the brevity of the lesbian scene that was mentioned. There is a short kiss, and you do see breasts, but the whole thing lasts perhaps 5 seconds. Much harder to swallow was a very graphic scene of an attempted suicide. While I thought the movie was very well done, and it does end with hope for this sinking ship of a family, there is no real joy in it, and nothing redeeming for a discerning, Christian viewer.
My Ratings: [Very Offensive / 4]
—Steven, age 24
Negative—This movie is a failed comedy if there ever was one. Its biggest problem is that it is not rooted in real human experience, so there is no subtext conveying the complexity of real family life. You don’t have the sense that these characters exist off-screen as real people, with a history of relating. There is no sense of inner life amongst the characters. The movie seems to ape the screen adaptation of John Irving’s “The Hotel New Hampshire,” but the characters in that story were at least so bizarre as to be interesting. In “The Royal Tenenbaums,” most of the characters are half-dead with depression, in a comedic sort of way; more contrast of personality types is needed to create some intriguing action and/or dialogue on the screen. From a moral standpoint, the saving grace of this film is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Even though it is juvenile of the writers to refer to Jews as “Hebes” and Irish Catholics as “Mick Catholics,” and to have a priest fall down the stairs and break his ankle in a piece of uninspired slapstick, there is not enough seriousness anywhere in the film for these cheap shots and would-be slurs to carry weight. No one in the cast is able to transcend the abundant silliness to convey anything of substance; surely a real comedic performance does connect to the lives of the audience in some substantial way. Royal Tenenbaum’s failures as a father are simply too extreme to hit close to home, and to be funny. Nevertheless, the cast members do let their personalities shine through and in that way manage to be very likable—probably too likable for any suspension of disbelief to succeed. Everything in the movie feels so ridiculous that there is no point in seeing it. Do yourself a favor and see Todd Field’s “In the Bedroom,” a movie with recognizable human characters, instead, or donate the ticket price to your local homeless shelter. I doubt you will find this film to be worth your money, let alone your time.
My Ratings: [Average / 1½]
—Denys St. John, age 35
Negative—This movie is extremely offensive for the Christian viewer. There is a sexual scene between two lesbians that includes [some] nudity. There is also a sexual scene between a brother and a sister. This movie was extremely well done, and accolades will most likely be given to the actors and screenwriters. However, just like American Beauty was excellent in quality, the subject matter is truly offensive for the Christian viewer. Many people walked out of the theater. I wish that I had, because I cannot shake the images I saw, even when I averted my eyes. A very well done film. But not worth the horrible feelings that accompany it. I felt so strongly that I needed to ask God’s forgiveness for viewing this film. don’t put yourself in the same position. I’m SORRY I SAW IT.
My Ratings: [Extremely Offensive / 4]
—K. Jones, age 31
Movie Critics
…containing strong lesbian scene and anti-biblical elements with horrible, dysfunctional parenting, extreme dishonoring of parents…
—Lisa Rice, Movieguide