Gene Hackman
Anjelica Huston
Ben Stiller
Gwyneth Paltrow
Luke Wilson
Owen Wilson
Danny Glover
Bill Murray
Seymour Cassel

Wes Anderson

"I want to make this family love me. How much money you got?"
Time: 108 mins.
Rating: R
Official Web Site
Genre: Comedy/Romance/Drama

Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay.
I've been waiting for this film ever since I saw Anderson's last film RUSHMORE. You don't find many director's out there with his eclectic visual style and slightly deranged sense of humor. Many of the same themes are explored further in this tale about what makes a family. His characters are again extremely strange, yet intimately familiar, as they try to find a reason to wake up each morning. It's a story about unrequited love, fame, selfishness, betrayal, sorrow, fear and forgiveness, starring one of the most talented casts ever assembled. Unfortunately, this family saga of pain and redemption isn't half as fun as Anderson wants it to be.

Probably because there's no consistent point of view and too many characters with too many problems. Hackman takes the lead, as the character of the title and the man everyone loves to hate, especially the wife and children he casually left behind. The children – Chas (Stiller), Richie (Luke Wilson) and adopted daughter Margot (Paltrow) – were all once considered geniuses, but now as adults in their 30s are considered has-beens. Their mother, Ethel (Huston), encouraged them all to their early successes – Chas was a stock market wiz, Margot a budding playwright and Richie a tennis phenom. Of course, everything fell apart when Royal decided to leave. The family went on as best they could, but Royal's unencouraging influence was too strong. Like a bad penny, Royal shows up 20 years later, supposedly dying, looking for love and forgiveness.

Ethel is torn between her sympathy for Royal and her love for Henry Sherman (Glover), an old family friend who recently proposed to her. Chas is an emotional wreck, trying to raise two young sons after the death of his wife. He's the most bitter towards Royal, a man who showed more interest in the money he was making than in him. Margot could care less if Royal dies or not since he always treated her like an outsider. With her marriage to Raleigh (Murray) on the rocks, she has more than enough on her emotional plate. Richie is the only one to open his arms to Royal without question. However, he was the only one to have any sort of relationship with his father as a child. Of course, no one knows what to make of the major meltdown he had on the tennis court.

For his part, Royal seems to be sincere in his efforts to reconnect with his family. He's having the time of his life, which is why nobody trusts him for a second. Things get out of control fast as everyone is forced to deal with each other again, causing tensions to run high, trusts to be betrayed and secrets to be revealed. Though Ethel loves her children, she couldn't give them what they really wanted – their father's approval. What they finally discover is that you can't change people, just your expectations of them. They know Royal loves them, he just doesn't show it in the ways they would like. Initially, this little family reunion causes a total family breakdown, but eventually, everyone works out their issues, though forgiveness is still forthcoming.

There's so much to like about this movie, I can't believe I didn't enjoy myself more. The cast was amazing, each carving out their own little neurotic niche, daring the others to be more interesting than they are. Hackman gives another bravura performance as the father who refuses to grow up. Stiller, Paltrow and Wilson bring their vastly different physical and acting styles to the table, creating three individuals desperate to be loved for their true selves not their talent. Huston, Glover and Murray get the short end of the stick, playing the "normal" ones of the bunch. They just aren't given enough to do to make their roles worthwhile. Owen Wilson, who plays a neighbor kid desperate to be part of the family, is more annoying than funny in a role I could've done without. The best moments are between Royal and his adult children. His attempts at parental affection both painful and humorous.

As if the family weren't screwed up enough, there are several useless subplots that are supposed to raise the notch on their dysfunctionality, but which just serve to be overkill. It's the quiet moments that show us the core of these relationships... and just how unbreakable they are. Somehow Anderson has mistaken wacky and sordid for unusual and interesting. His characters in RUSHMORE are not exactly what one would call model citizens, but even though Max was wrapped up in his own fantasy world, his feet still touched the ground. In the case of the Tenenbaums, weird does not equal funny. I wasn't expecting a laugh riot, but I was hoping to be entertained. For a comedy, it's painfully slow at times, forcing you to wonder what the point of the story is.

For a tale full of visual style and originality – the art direction, costumes, editing and choice of music are truly unique and entrancing – it doesn't really have anything new to say. We all have issues with our families. Tell us something we don't know. For a man who made adolescence so brutally funny in his previous outing, it's a shame this film never really finds its voice. This certainly isn't the worst film of the year, but it is one of the more disappointing. However, if you're looking for something outside the norm, you'll find enough angst and depravity here to make the trip worthwhile.