The Royal Tenenbaums: Wikis


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The Royal Tenenbaums

theatrical poster
Directed by Wes Anderson
Produced by Wes Anderson
Barry Mendel
Scott Rudin
Written by Wes Anderson
Owen Wilson
Narrated by Alec Baldwin
Starring Gene Hackman
Anjelica Huston
Gwyneth Paltrow
Ben Stiller
Andrew Wilson
Luke Wilson
Owen Wilson
Danny Glover
Bill Murray
Stephen Lea Sheppard
Music by Mark Mothersbaugh
Cinematography Robert Yeoman
Editing by Dylan Tichenor
Distributed by Touchstone Pictures
Release date(s) December 4, 2001 (US)
December 28, 2001 (Can)
March 14, 2002 (Aus)
March 15, 2002 (UK)
May 7, 2002 (NZ)
Running time 109 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $28,000,000 (est)
Gross revenue US$52,307,676[1]

The Royal Tenenbaums is a 2001 American dramedy film directed by Wes Anderson about 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 off-beat, ironic, absurdist sense of humor pervades the entire film.

Gene Hackman won a Golden Globe for his performance and Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson's screenplay was nominated for an Academy Award. Stylus Magazine ranked it number 3 on their list of the "Top Films of the Millennium."[2]



Royal Tenenbaum is explaining to his three children Chas, Margot, and Richie that he and his wife, Etheline, will soon separate. The scene then evolves into a short explanation of each of the Tenenbaums' lives; each experiences great success at a very young age. Chas is a math and business genius who, in the 6th grade, begins selling specially bred "dalmatian" mice to dealers in Little Tokyo. He also has money stolen from his personal safe deposit box by Royal. Margot is the only adopted child of Etheline and Royal, a fact the latter never fails to mention when introducing her. Margot was awarded a $50,000 Braverman 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, which neither of the other children are invited to. Richie also has a falcon named Mordecai. Eli Cash is the Tenenbaums' neighbor, and Richie's best friend.

Twenty-two years later, Royal is kicked out of the hotel he has been living in since the separation. All three of the Tenenbaum children are in a post-success slump. Richie is traveling all over the world in a cruise ship following a breakdown at a tennis match. He writes a letter to Eli saying that he loves Margot romantically. Chas has become extremely overprotective of his two children, Ari and Uzi, following his wife Rachael's tragic death in a plane crash. Margot is married to a neurologist named Raleigh St. Clair. She hides her smoking, along with most of her past, from him. Raleigh performs tests on Dudley Heinsbergen, researching a strange disorder he calls Heinsbergen syndrome. Etheline's accountant, Henry Sherman, proposes to her.

Being kicked out onto the street and given the news that Etheline is considering marrying her accountant, Royal devises a plan to convince Etheline that he has stomach cancer in order to win her back as well as the affections of his estranged children. He tells Etheline of his "cancer", moves in, and sets up a large amount of medical equipment in Richie's room. Etheline calls each of the Tenenbaum children home, and for the first time in 17 years they are all living in the same house. Royal learns of Chas' overprotective nature and decides to take his grandchildren out on the town involving, but not limited to, shoplifting and dog fighting. Upon their return, Chas berates him for endangering his children. Royal accuses Chas of having a nervous breakdown and Chas leaves.

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. Raleigh confides to Richie his suspicions of Margot and they hire a private investigator to spy on her. Henry observes Royal eating a cheeseburger and decides to tell Etheline that he thinks that Royal may not have cancer. Royal starts using a variety of racial slurs to try to anger Henry and they start a fight, which is broken up by Etheline. Henry investigates Royal and discovers his hospital had closed years before, his doctor is fake, and that his cancer medication is just Tic Tacs. Henry then confronts Pagoda.

Henry gathers the whole family to tell them that he knows that Royal can't have stomach cancer and he's been lying all along. Having been discovered, Royal and Pagoda leave. Now even more broke than before, he and Pagoda get jobs as elevator attendants. Richie and Raleigh get the private eye's report on Margot back. A montage shows Margot at various points in her life from her first cigarette to her many affairs. Upon hearing the report, Raleigh only comments on her smoking but the news has a much more profound effect on Richie. 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 his own blood, and Raleigh rushes him to the hospital. Soon after, as the Tenenbaums sit in the waiting room, Raleigh confronts Margot before leaving. Soon after, 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 sign divorce papers, officially ending their marriage. Before Henry and Etheline's wedding, Eli, high on mescaline, crashes his car into the side of the house. Royal saves Ari and Uzi from being run over, but their dog Buckley is killed. Eli flies out of the car and through a window. Chas, infuriated, chases Eli through the house. When Chas catches up to Eli, he wrestles with him and throws Eli over a fence and then, exhausted and embarrassed, climbs over the fence and lies down next to him. Eli realizes that he needs serious help and Chas agrees that they both need help. Chas recognizes that Royal saved his children from death, mending their relationship. Royal then buys a dalmatian from the firefighters that are at the scene for Ari and Uzi. 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 somewhere in North Dakota, and Richie starts a junior tennis program. Royal has a heart attack and dies quietly at the age of 68. Chas is the only witness to his death. The family attends his funeral and leave together after the service.


  • Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman) - A shamelessly insensitive lawyer (briefly imprisoned) and a failure as a father. He intentionally shot his son Chas with a BB gun during a game, 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. Along with collaborator Owen Wilson, Anderson had Gene Hackman in mind for Royal Tenenbaum but the actor was reluctant to take the part. Hackman said that he prefers to disappear into a role, instead of having a role fitted for him to play. Because of this, Gene Wilder was offered the role as well, but turned it down because of his retirement.
  • Etheline Tenenbaum (Anjelica Huston) - A noted archeologist and author, and the mother of the Tenenbaum children, who "makes their education her top priority" and helps them climb to fame. Later on, Ethel finds love in 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. They have a dog named Buckley.
  • Margot Helen Tenenbaum (Gwyneth Paltrow) - A playwright prodigy, 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. She is also adopted, as Royal is quick to point out.
  • 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). At the beginning of the film, 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, wore the same style headband and trademark Fila polo, and is rumored to have attempted suicide after his exit from the game.
  • Eli Cash (Owen Wilson) - A "friend of the family" since the Tenenbaum 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 didn't die 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.
  • 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. Henry is the polar opposite of Royal.
  • Raleigh St. Clair (Bill Murray) - Husband of Margot Tenenbaum 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.
  • Pagoda (Kumar Pallana) - Friend and servant to the Tenenbaum Family. He also acts as an informant working 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.
  • Ernest P. Worrell (Jim Varney) - One of the drug dealers present at Eli Cash's residence.

Inspirations and influences

The siblings of the Tenenbaum family are all highly intelligent and disillusioned, struggling with their own identities. They are loosely based on the similarly disillusioned siblings from the Glass family stories by J. D. Salinger. The Glass children, seven child prodigies who turned into miserable adults, are the central subject of three of Salinger's four published books, and form the basis for the Tenenbaum children, as director Wes Anderson revealed in a January 2001 interview with Premiere. The name Tenenbaum also resembles the married name of Beatrice 'Boo Boo' Glass Tannenbaum. In one scene, Etheline Tenenbaum urges her daughter Margot Tenenbaum to get out of the bathroom. A similar scene takes up a large part of Salinger's Franny and Zooey, in which Bessie Glass spends quite a bit of time bothering her son Zooey. The oldest child of the Glass Family, Seymour, committed suicide in his adulthood; this is mirrored at the end of the film. Royal Tennenbaum also claims to be 'Part Hebrew' and believes his children to be raised Catholic; The Glass family also have this upbringing.

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

Etheline Tenenbaum, played by Anjelica Huston, was modeled after Anderson's mother, who also adopted archaeology after divorcing her husband. The glasses Etheline wears 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 Tenenbaum; additionally, Chas's son Ari shares a name with Nico's son. Nico's "These Days" and "The Fairest of the Seasons" are featured in the movie.

According to Wes Anderson in the DVD commentary, the subplot in which Margot and Richie hide in a museum is a homage to the book From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, by E. L. Konigsburg. In the book, the characters Claudia and Jamie run away to live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.


The soundtrack to The Royal Tenenbaums contains a style typical of other Wes Anderson films. Mark Mothersbaugh, a member of Devo, composed the score for the soundtrack as well as for many of Anderson's other films. The film also features many rock songs from the 1960s-'80s. Music from the film is regularly used on the radio program This American Life.[3]

"Needle in the Hay," a song by Elliott Smith, is heard during the scene in which Richie Tenenbaum attempts suicide by slitting his wrists. In a dark coincidence, Smith died in 2003 as a result of two stab wounds to the chest. The death was initially reported as a suicide, but autopsy results were inconclusive.

There have been two soundtrack album releases for The Royal Tenenbaums. 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's version of The Beatles' "Hey Jude" and two Rolling Stones tracks. 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 found in the film by The Rolling Stones ("She Smiled Sweetly," "Ruby Tuesday") were still not included on the soundtrack. This is because while The Rolling Stones allow their music to be used in films, they rarely allow their material to appear on any soundtracks. The soundtrack was also still missing the Van Morrison track, which served as the closing credits song in the film. Additionally, the "Lindbergh Palace Hotel Suite," credited as original music by Mark 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.


In common with Anderson's other films he makes extensive and careful use of typography, in particular Futura and its variation Futura Bold.[4] 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.[4] Anderson also uses the Futura typeface widely in Bottle Rocket, Rushmore and in the title of The Life Aquatic.


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." Mike 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 79% "Fresh" rating at the website Rotten Tomatoes, including a 74% "Fresh" rating among the top critics. [5]

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."[6] 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.[7]


External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

The Royal Tenenbaums is a 2001 film about a family of former child prodigies that reunites when their estranged father announces he has a terminal illness.

Directed by Wes Anderson. Written by Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson
Family isn't a word. It's a sentence. Taglines


Royal Tenenbaum

  • I'm not talking about dance lessons. I'm talking about putting a brick through the other guy's windshield. I'm talking about taking it out and chopping it up.
  • He looks pretty good for a suicide. Attempted, anyway.

Eli Cash

  • Why would a reviewer make the point of saying someone's not a genius? Do you especially think I'm not a genius?
    You didn't even have to think about it, did you?
  • Well, everyone knows Custer died at Little Bighorn. What this book presupposes is... maybe he didn't?


  • Pagoda: He got the cancer.
  • Royal O'Reilly Tenenbaum (1932-2001) Died Tragically Rescuing His Family From The Remains Of A Destroyed Sinking Battleship
    • Royal's Epitaph


Eli Cash: I'm not in love with you any more.
Margot: I didn't think you ever were.
Eli Cash: Let's not make this harder than it already is.
Margot: OK.
Eli Cash: OK what?
Margot: OK, I'm not in love with you any more either.
Eli Cash: I know. You're in love with Richie, which is sick and gross.
Margot: Do you send my mother your clippings? And your grades in ---
Eli Cash: Please stop belittling me. You never gave me the time of day until I started getting good reviews.
Margot: The reviews aren't that good.
Eli Cash: But the sales are.

Eli Cash: I always wanted to be a Tenenbaum.
Royal: Me too, me too.

[Chas Tenenbaum and his sons enter his mother's house with several bags]
Ethel: Chas? What's going on?
Chas: We got locked out of our apartment.
Ethel: Well, did you call a locksmith?
Chas: Uh-huh.
Ethel: Well, I don't understand. Did you pack your bags BEFORE you got locked out?
Chas: It's not safe there.
Ethel: What are you talking about?
Chas: The apartment. I have to get some new sprinklers and a back-up security system installed.
Ethel: But there are no sprinklers here either.
Chas: We might have to do something about that too.

Richie Tenenbaum: Read it back to me so far, Pietro.
Radio Operator: Dear Eli, I'm in the middle of the ocean, I haven't left my room in four days, I've never been more lonely in my life and I think I'm in love with Margot.
Richie Tenenbaum: New paragraph.

Eli: I wish you'd've done this for me when I was a kid.
Richie: But you didn't have a drug problem then.
Eli: Yeah, but it still would've meant a lot to me.

Royal: I'm dying, baby. I'm sick as a dog. I'll be dead in six weeks. I'm dying.
Ethel: What are you talking about? What happened? Oh, my God. I'm sorry. I didn't know. What'd they say? What's the prognosis?
Royal: Take it easy, Ethel. Hold on. Hold on.
Ethel: Where's the doctor? Let's get -
Royal: Wait a second. Listen. I'm not dying. But I need some time. A month. Maybe two. I want us to -
Ethel: What's wrong with you?
Royal: Ethel.
Ethel: Go away!
Royal: Baby. I am dying.
Ethel: Are you or aren't you?
Royal: Dying? Yes.

Royal: Look, I know I'm gonna be the bad guy on this one. But I just wanna say the last six days have been the best six days of probably my whole life.
Narrator: Immediately after making this statement, Royal realized that it was true.


  • Family isn't a word. It's a sentence.
  • You are invited to a remarkable family gathering.


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