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Pick of the Week:
"The Royal Tenenbaums" DVD
Reviewed by Ivana Redwine
Guide Rating -

"You are invited to a remarkable family gathering." Length: 109 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for some language, sexuality/nudity and drug content

Co-written and directed by Wes Anderson ("Rushmore," "Bottle Rocket"), "The Royal Tenenbaums" is an offbeat indie comedy with a wonderful ensemble cast that includes Gene Hackman, Anjelica Huston, Ben Stiller, Gwyneth Paltrow, Owen and Luke Wilson, Bill Murray, and Danny Glover. Now Criterion Collection has released this quirky movie on DVD, and I got a lot of smiles and chuckles out of it when I watched it recently. The film comes packaged with a generous selection of supplementary materials as a two-disc DVD set.

"The Royal Tenenbaums" is set in a New York City of the mind, where beat-up taxis are operated by a company called Gypsy Cab, public transportation is provided by sleek-looking Green Line buses, and there's a place for men to stay called the 375th Street Y. Most of the story takes place in a strangely retro early 21st century, although there are flashbacks to the latter part of the 20th century.

The movie is about the Tenenbaums, an affluent, eccentric, dysfunctional family of high-achievers. The family patriarch is Royal Tenenbaum (Hackman), a charming scoundrel who was once a prominent attorney-but that was before he was disbarred and did time in a minimum-security prison. Royal is married to the pleasant, steadfast Etheline Tenenbaum (Huston), and they have three children. However, Royal moved away from his family years ago, and Etheline-who eventually became an archaeologist-brought up the kids as child prodigies, publishing a book about it titled "Family of Geniuses."

The elder Tenenbaum son Chas (Stiller) was a financial genius who got his start breeding mice with color markings similar to those of Dalmatian dogs. The Tenenbaums also have an adopted daughter named Margot (Paltrow), who gained fame by writing critically acclaimed plays with titles like "Erotic Transference" and "Nakedness Tonight." The younger Tenenbaum son Richie (Luke Wilson), whose hobby is falconry, became a three-time national tennis champion.

Despite their early success, all three Tenenbaum children have their lives fall apart in early adulthood. Chas' wife dies in a plane crash, leaving him distraught and struggling to bring up their two young sons, Ari and Uzi. Margot is unable to finish a complete play and enters into an unhappy marriage with neurologist Raleigh St. Clair (Murray), who has published a book titled "The Peculiar Neurodegenerative Inhabitants of the Kazawa Atoll." Richie, who is in love with his adopted sister Margot, has a meltdown during a championship match when he sees her with her new husband and retires from professional tennis at age 26.

But all of the above is backstory. The movie's main storyline gets underway when Royal runs out of money and is evicted from his suite at the Lindbergh Palace Hotel. Desperate for a place to stay, he fakes a terminal illness and has himself moved back into the family home. At about this same time, Etheline receives a proposal of marriage from her longtime financial advisor Henry Sherman (Glover), who has written a book titled "Accounting for Everything: A Guide to Personal Finance." Also, we soon learn that Margot is in an adulterous relationship with Richie's pal Eli Cash (Owen Wilson), college English professor and author of the novel "Old Custer," the premise of which is that Custer didn't die at Little Bighorn.

I really enjoyed the acerbic wit of "The Royal Tenenbaums," but what I like best about the movie is the way Anderson and co-writer Owen Wilson were able to weave such seemingly unlikely material into a tale of reconciliation and redemption. While the film has lots of sarcastic humor, it ultimately offers hope and warmth. And although I'll admit this movie doesn't have the hilarious visual gags and sidesplitting one-liners of the funniest of the recent Hollywood comedies, it also avoids the clichés and annoying tidiness of most Tinsel Town products. Yet, I don't find "The Royal Tenenbaums" foreign in any way: It reminds me of both the literate Hollywood comedies of the 1930s and '40s and the best of the character-driven British comedies.

I liked the music on the soundtrack of "The Royal Tenenbaums" a lot. Among the many songs heard are Lennon and McCartney's "Hey Jude," Paul Simons' "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard," the Ramones' "Judy Is a Punk," Van Morrison's "Everyone," Vince Guaraldi's "Christmas Time Is Here," two Rolling Stones numbers, and a pair of Bob Dylan numbers.

The DVD provides a scene-specific, feature-length commentary track by Wes Anderson that I found to be worthwhile. I thought it was interesting that he mentions some of the films that influenced him, such as "The Red Shoes" (1948), "The Magnificent Ambersons" (1942), "Death Takes a Holiday" (1934), "Paris, Texas" (1984), "Les Enfants terribles" (1950), and "Le Feu follet" (1963).

Disc Two of the DVD set provides a wealth of bonus materials, which I have listed below. The 27-minute feature on Wes Anderson titled "With the Filmmaker" is reasonably interesting, as are the two deleted scenes. "The Peter Bradley Show" is amusing if you like deadpan humor. Disc Two also contains four unhidden Easter eggs, which I have described elsewhere on this site.

Selected Special Features on the DVDs:

  • Two-Disc Set
  • Commentary Track With Writer/Director Wes Anderson
  • With the Filmmaker (27-Minute Feature on Wes Anderson)
  • Video Interviews and Behind-the-Scenes Footage of Actors
  • Slide Show of Photos Presented at Wrap Party
  • Storyboards
  • Deleted Scenes (2)
  • Information About Artist Miguel Calderon
  • Richie Tenenbaum's Portraits of His Sister Margot
  • Murals in Richie Tenenbaum's Bedroom
  • Book and Magazine Covers Shown in Movie
  • The Peter Bradley Show (TV Talk Show Parody)
  • Theatrical Trailers (2)
  • Easter Eggs
  • DVD Release Date: July 9, 2002

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"The Royal Tenenbaums" DVD Easter Eggs
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Top Picks - Billy Wilder on Video and DVD
Top Picks - Stanley Kubrick Films on Video/DVD
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