The magic lies in the subtleties.
Royal, a disbarred attorney, has been reduced to emotional and financial penury by his children, who are all former child prodigies. Gwyneth Paltrow is Margot, a woman with a penchant for fur coats and eyeliner, who has been an award-winning playwright since the age of nine, but hasn't had a hit for some time; Luke Wilson plays Richie, a sullen tennis pro who affects a chunky headband from the Borg-McEnroe era and publicly admires the Rod Laver grip, but whose career has spectacularly flopped, and Ben Stiller is Chas, an inspired property speculator since puberty, who sued his father for shooting him with a BB gun in a high-spirited boyhood game, but is now going through a breakdown due to the death of his wife.
All of them look horribly like damaged children, bedraggled and bewildered by their own sense of ruined promise and shocked by grown-up life. And this weirdo bunch is further augmented by a family "friend" Eli, a wacky bestselling novelist played by Owen Wilson the movie's co-writer and executive producer whose own family resemblance to his brother Luke makes him part of the family in a way nothing else could.
This group, already seething with a million unacknowledged resentments, is thrown into further turmoil when Royal, quite unable to pay his hotel bill, fakes stomach cancer in a bid to be accepted back in the family home, where everyone else has ended up.
There are obvious echoes with Anderson's previous film Rushmore, where aberrant childhood talent is a poignant displacement activity for some deeper emotional hurt. The teenage Max there finds a soulmate in jaded Bill Murray, but that was a relationship which could hardly survive Max's growth into adulthood. Estranged from his own grown-up children, Royal manufactures for himself something similar: He takes them go-karting and on shoplifting trips, to give them and the rest of his clan a hint of the fun they're missing out on without him and says grotesquely inappropriate things like: Anderson has created for his film a very distinctive look, furnished with a Coen-ish attention to offbeat detail and derived from the book motif which begins the film.
It's prefaced with chapter-headings, and the "story" itself is a cheesy old volume from a lending library, stamped in the old-fashioned way: He devises quaint rectilinear compositions, and shot-reverse-shot conversations where both parties look directly into the lens from the same central position, like something by Ozu.
This contributes to the movie's fragmented, stylised form, but is also consonant with the pathological oddity which reigns in the Tenenbaums' bizarre household itself. The man likes to tinker. For The Royal Tenenbaums , which first entered American theatres 15 years ago today, Anderson understandably wanted to get his searing, personal love letter to his adopted home of New York just right. The magic lies in the subtleties.
He avoided filming any landmarks that could easily identify New York. Instead, we get lobbed headfirst into a rich world of oak stairwells lined with boar heads and cherry-red tracksuits.
We know where we are. Champion tennis player and artist Richie lives in a headband and 70s porn star sunglasses. Ninth-grade playwright Margot prefers a Lacoste dress wrapped in a Fendi fur. In that home, we watch all of the siblings and their longtime separated parents cope with the magnitude of their failures.
There are many to swallow. Their father, Royal Tenenbaum, returns after 22 years of living in a hotel. He claims to be suffering from stomach cancer and his former wife, Etheline, summons all her children back home. In turn, their breakdowns occur. Richie learns to deal with his feelings for his adopted sister Margot, in what has to be the chicest example of incest to grace the screen. Chas is an overprotective dad who needs to loosen the reins on his mini-me children. The Royal Tenenbaums was shot in a mini-mansion designed by Adolph Hoak in the s.
It was derelict when they took over the home for a period of six months.
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