The Royal Tenenbaums

The Royal Tenenbaums
The Royal Tenenbaums

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Wes Anderson
Produced by Wes Anderson
Barry Mendel
Scott Rudin
Owen Wilson
Written by Wes Anderson
Owen Wilson
Narrated by Alec Baldwin
Starring Gene Hackman
Anjelica Huston
Gwyneth Paltrow
Ben Stiller
Luke Wilson
Owen Wilson
Danny Glover
Bill Murray
Music by Mark Mothersbaugh
Cinematography Robert Yeoman
Editing by Dylan Tichenor
Studio American Empirical Pictures
Distributed by Touchstone Pictures
Release date(s) December 14, 2001 (2001-12-14) (United States: limited)
January 4, 2002 (2002-01-04) (United States: wide)
Running time 109 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $21 million[1]
Box office $71,441,250[1]

The Royal Tenenbaums is a 2001 American comedy-drama film directed by Wes Anderson and co-written with Owen Wilson. The film stars Gene Hackman and Anjelica Huston, with Danny Glover, Bill Murray, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Stiller, Luke Wilson, and Owen Wilson.

It follows the lives of three gifted siblings who experience great success in youth, and even greater disappointment and failure after their eccentric father leaves them in their adolescent years. An ironic and absurdist sense of humor pervades the film.

Hackman won a Golden Globe for his performance. The screenplay was nominated for an Academy Award.



Royal Tenenbaum is explaining to his three children, Chas, Margot, and Richie, that he and his wife, Etheline, are separating. The scene then evolves into a short explanation of how each child experiences great success at a very young age. Chas is a math and business genius, from whom Royal steals money. Margot is adopted, and was awarded a grant for a play that she wrote in the ninth grade. Richie is a tennis prodigy and artist. He expresses his love for adopted sister Margot through many paintings. Royal takes him on regular outings, to which neither of the other children are invited. Eli Cash is the Tenenbaums' neighbor, and Richie's best friend.

22 years later, Royal is kicked out of the hotel he has been living in. Meanwhile, all of the Tenenbaum children are in a post-success slump. Richie is traveling the world in a cruise ship following a breakdown; he writes a letter to Eli saying that he is in love with Margot. Chas has become extremely overprotective of his two sons, Ari and Uzi, following his wife Rachael's death in a plane crash. Margot is married to neurologist Raleigh St. Clair, from whom she hides her smoking and her checkered past. Raleigh is conducting research on a subject named Dudley Heinsbergen. Etheline's accountant, Henry Sherman, proposes to her.

Given the news that Etheline is considering marrying Henry, Royal devises a plan to convince Etheline that he has stomach cancer in order to win her and his children's affections back. He tells Etheline of his cancer, moves in, and sets up medical equipment in Richie's room. Etheline calls each of her children home. Royal learns of Chas' overprotective nature and decides to take his grandsons out on an adventure involving shoplifting and dog fighting. Upon their return, Chas berates him for endangering his boys. Royal accuses Chas of having a nervous breakdown.

Eli, with whom Margot has been having an affair, tells her that Richie loves her. Royal discovers the affair and objects to Margot's treatment of Raleigh, who confides to Richie his suspicions of Margot. He and Richie then hire a private investigator to spy on her.

Henry investigates Royal's cancer claim and discovers the hospital had closed years before, his doctor is fake, and that his cancer medication is just Tic Tacs. He then confronts Pagoda, and gathers the whole family to tell them what he's discovered; after which, Royal and Pagoda leave.

Richie and Raleigh get the private eye's report on Margot. Upon hearing it, Raleigh only comments on her smoking but Richie takes the news much harder. He goes into the bathroom, shaves off his beard and most of his hair, and calmly slits his wrists. Dudley finds him in a pool of blood, and Raleigh rushes him to the hospital. Soon after, as the Tenenbaums sit in the waiting room, Raleigh confronts Margot before leaving. Later, Richie escapes the hospital and meets with Margot. They share with each other their secret love and kiss.

Royal decides that he wants Etheline to be happy and has arranged for the two of them to be divorced. Before Henry and Etheline's wedding, Eli, high on mescaline, crashes his car into the side of the house, narrowly missing Ari and Uzi, whom Royal moves out of the way. Enraged, Chas chases Eli through the house; when he catches up to him, the two wrestle to the ground. Eli realizes that he needs serious help and Chas agrees that he needs help as well. Chas thanks Royal for saving his sons. Forty-eight hours later, Etheline and Henry are married in a judge's chambers.

Time passes and Margot releases a new play based on her family. Raleigh publishes a book on Dudley's condition, Eli checks himself into rehab in North Dakota, and Richie starts a junior tennis program. Royal has a heart attack and dies, with Chas as the only witness. The family attends his funeral and leave together after the service.


  • Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman) – A shamelessly insensitive lawyer and a failure as a father. He intentionally shot his son Chas with a BB gun, and consistently and irrelevantly feels he must point out that Margot is his "adopted daughter." He often took only Richie to dogfights while excluding Chas and Margot. Anderson had Hackman in mind for Royal but the actor was reluctant to take the part, saying he prefers to disappear into a role, instead of having a role fitted for him. Gene Wilder was offered the role as well, but turned it down because of his retirement.
  • Etheline Tenenbaum (Anjelica Huston) – A noted archaeologist and author, and the mother of the Tenenbaum children, who "makes their education her top priority." Later on, Ethel finds love with Henry Sherman, her accountant, the complete opposite of her estranged husband Royal.
  • Chas Tenenbaum (Ben Stiller) – A genius in international finance, Chas sued his father twice and had him disbarred because of the bonds his father stole from his safe deposit box when he was fourteen. His wife, Rachael Evans Tenenbaum, died in a plane crash and he has since become obsessed with the safety of his sons, Ari and Uzi (Grant Rosenmeyer and Jonah Meyerson). They have a beagle named Buckley.
    • Aram Aslanian-Persico as young Chas
  • Margot Tenenbaum (Gwyneth Paltrow) – A playwright and adopted daughter, Margot once ran away from home for two weeks to meet her birth family and came back with half of one of her fingers missing. She is shown moping in her bathtub, watching television, ignoring her husband. She smokes, unbeknownst to anyone else in her family as she is infamously secretive.
  • Richie Tenenbaum (Luke Wilson) – A tennis prodigy, Richie is secretly in love with Margot. He ends his successful tennis career with a nervous breakdown on court in front of thousands of fans (the film implies the cause was the marriage of Margot and Raleigh the day before). As the film opens, he has been living on an ocean liner for several months. He drinks Bloody Marys with pepper throughout the movie, so much so that he carries a capped pepper shaker in his jacket pocket. The character is loosely based on former champion Björn Borg, who shocked the tennis world by retiring at age 26, and wore the same style headband and trademark Fila polo.
    • Amedeo Turturro as young Richie
  • Eli Cash (Owen Wilson) – A "friend of the family" since the children were very young, considered Richie's best friend, Eli has "always wanted to be a Tenenbaum." He gained success as an author of Western novels; his latest work presupposes the outcome if George Armstrong Custer had not died at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Eli has been having an affair with Margot and has a drug problem. Anderson has stated that Eli is based on the authors Cormac McCarthy and Jay McInerney.
    • James Fitzgerald as young Eli
  • Henry Sherman (Danny Glover) – Ethel's accountant and romantic interest. He confronts Royal on his supposed stomach cancer with the family present, revealing that his wife had stomach cancer, and Royal does not show any of the symptoms.
  • Raleigh St. Clair (Bill Murray) – Husband of Margot and a famous neurologist in his own right. Anderson has mentioned that St. Clair was based on Oliver Sacks. He is constantly accompanied by his adolescent test subject Dudley Heinsbergen (Stephen Lea Sheppard).
  • Pagoda (Kumar Pallana) – Friend and servant to the family. He also acts as an informant for Royal to update him on his family. They met after Pagoda, an assassin in Kolkata, stabbed Royal; he earned his trust, however, when he then carried him on his back to the hospital.
  • Dusty (Seymour Cassel) - Elevator operator at the Lindbergh Palace Hotel. A trusted friend of Royal, he helps deceive the Tenenbaum family about Royal's illness by pretending to be Dr. McClure. Later, he helps Royal get a job at the hotel.
  • Andrew Wilson as Father Farmer / Tex Hayward
  • The narrator of the story is Alec Baldwin.

Inspirations and influences

The Tenenbaum children, all highly intelligent and disillusioned, are loosely based on the similarly disillusioned siblings from J. D. Salinger's Glass family stories, as director Wes Anderson revealed in a January 2001 interview with Premiere. The Glass children, seven child prodigies who turned into miserable adults, are the central subject of three of Salinger's four published books. The name Tenenbaum also resembles the married name of Beatrice "Boo Boo" Glass Tannenbaum. In one scene, Etheline Tenenbaum urges her daughter Margot to get out of the bathtub. A similar scene takes up a large part of Franny and Zooey, in which Bessie Glass spends quite a bit of time bothering her son Zooey.

Another key influence is Orson Welles' film The Magnificent Ambersons, the story of the moral and financial decline of the titular family. Additionally, the opulent Amberson house is central to the visual style of the film.

Etheline was modeled after Anderson's mother, who became an archaeologist after divorcing her husband. Etheline's glasses are actually Mrs. Anderson's.

Two of the film's characters are thought to be modeled after the musician Nico. The blonde hair and dark mascara of Nico is reflected in the styling of Margot; additionally, Chas's son Ari shares a name with Nico's son. Her songs "These Days" and "The Fairest of the Seasons" are featured in the movie.

According to Anderson's DVD commentary, E. L. Konigsburg's book From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, in which the characters Claudia and Jamie run away to live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, inspired the story of Margot and Richie hiding out in a museum.

The paintings in Eli's apartment are by Mexican artist Miguel Calderón.


The score was composed by Mark Mothersbaugh. The soundtrack also features rock songs from the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.

There have been two soundtrack album releases for the film. The first, in 2001, was well-received by most critics, though some songs were omitted; notably, Paul Simon's "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard", Van Morrison's "Everyone", John Lennon's "Look at Me", The Mutato Muzika Orchestra version of The Beatles' "Hey Jude" and two tracks by The Rolling Stones. Erik Satie's "Gymnopédie" was also used in the film, but never appeared on either soundtrack.

In 2002, the soundtrack was re-released with three songs not found on the 2001 release, but the two songs by The Rolling Stones ("She Smiled Sweetly" and "Ruby Tuesday") were not included, because, while the band allow their music to be used in films, they rarely allow the songs to appear on soundtracks. The Van Morrison track, which served as the closing credits song, was also still missing. Additionally, the "Lindbergh Palace Hotel Suite," credited as original music by Mothersbaugh on the 2001 release, was retitled on the 2002 soundtrack release as "Sonata for Cello and Piano in F Minor," performed by The Mutato Muzika Orchestra.

Elliott Smith's song "Needle in the Hay" is heard during the scene in which Richie attempts suicide by slitting his wrists.


In common with his other films, Anderson makes extensive and careful use of typography, in particular Futura and its variation Futura Bold.[2] It is suggested that the typography is used to identify the characters, with Futura used almost entirely in scenes featuring members of the Tenenbaum family, but other typefaces such as Helvetica used with people outside the family, e.g. on Raleigh St. Clair's books.[2] Anderson uses the same typeface in Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, and Fantastic Mr. Fox.


The film was met with mostly positive reviews, viewed by many as a worthy follow-up to Anderson's previous film, Rushmore. Todd McCarthy of Variety called the film "As richly conceived as the novel it pretends to be" and Richard Schickel, in Time, writing, "As with Anderson's Rushmore, there's a certain annoying preciousness to this film—it's not so consistently wise or amusing as he thinks it is—but it has its moments." Roger Ebert praised the film's writing, noting his belief that the film was "proof that Anderson and his writing partner, the actor Owen Wilson, have a gift of cockeyed genius." Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle was enthusiastic in praising the film as "like no other, an epic, depressive comedy, with lots of ironic laughs and a humane and rather sad feeling at its core."

Some critics disagreed about the success of the film and its style, Glenn Lovell of the San Jose Mercury News writing, "If I smiled at all during this colossal misfire, it was at Hackman, who knows how to do cheerfully thoughtless better than anyone around. The rest of the cast looks lost and miserable." Peter Rainer was lukewarm about the film, writing, "Anderson is something of a prodigy himself, and he's riddled with talent, but he hasn't figured out how to be askew and heartfelt at the same time." Jay Carr of the Boston Globe wrote "Mostly you sit around waiting for it to be funnier, or at least funny more often."

The film currently holds a 80% "Fresh" rating at the website Rotten Tomatoes, including a 75% "Fresh" rating among the top critics.[3]

In popular culture

The narration and the way the film follows each family member is similar to Fox's critically acclaimed television sitcom Arrested Development. Jason Bateman, one of the show's stars, described the show as "The Royal Tenenbaums shot like COPS."[4] Arrested Development creator and head writer Mitchell Hurwitz said that when he saw The Royal Tenenbaums, he already had the idea for Arrested Development in mind and thought, "Well, I guess I won't be doing that," but subsequently changed his mind.[5]

Tenenbaum House

The house used in the film is located near the famous Sugar Hill in the Hamilton Heights section of West Harlem in Manhattan, New York City. The address is 339 Convent Avenue. [6]


External links

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