Wes Anderson's The Royal Tenenbaums is the richly tragicomic story of one unique family's sudden, unexpected reunion. Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman) and his wife Etheline (Angelica Huston) had three children - Chas (Ben Stiller), Ritchie (Luke Wilson) and Margot (Gwneth 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. Ritchie was a junior championship tennis player and won the US Nationals three years in a row.

Virtually all memory of brilliance of the young Tenenbaums was subsequently erased by two decades of betrayal, failure and disaster. Most of this was generally considered to be their father's fault.


An opening narration, spoken by Alec Baldwin, tells us about the Tenenbaums, a gifted but very eccentric New York family. Before they separated, Royal and Etheline Tenenbaum had three children, Chas, Richie and Margot.

Chas (Ben Stiller) began speculating in real estate while he was still in his teens. Richie (Luke Wilson) was a champion tennis player who won the US Nationals three years in a row. Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow) who was adopted, a fact her father never ceased to mention when introducing her, became a celebrated playwright while still at school. But the failure of Royal (Gene Hackman) to keep his family together brought about two decades of ill fortune for the Tenenbaums.

Now, none of the children, including the widowed Chas, who has two sons of his own, live up to their early promise; Margot is married to Raleigh (Bill Murray) a neurologist on the verge of a nervous breakdown, but is loved by Eli (Owen Wilson) a family friend who always wanted to be a Tenenbaum; and Eveline (Anjelica Huston) is thinking of marrying her accountant, Henry (Danny Glover) mainly for tax purposes. And then the Tenenbaums are unexpectedly reunited.

Wes Anderson's very distinctive style of comedy, which we've seen in Bottle Rocket and Rushmore, has been compared with that of the great comedy auteur of the 40s, Preston Sturges. Anderson has a very unusual take on the world, and this ironic tale of failure and regeneration is highly stylised and at the same time filled with truth and a strange kind of beauty.

The cast are all superb, with Gene Hackman especially enjoyable as the reprobate patriarch whose return to the family home is not an entirely welcome one; and the very precise look of the film, the clever design and camerawork, which create a slightly off-kilter world for the characters to inhabit, is beautifully done.