Droid defines the Decades best movies – #14 The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

royal_tenenbaums I’ve been stuck trying to write this review, as it’s difficult to put in to words why I like it without pulling out nothing but clichés. I’ll try to get a few out of the way and hopefully something readable will occur. Bear with me.

The plot, as it is, is simple. There isn’t really one. Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman) is the estranged father of a trio of talented kids, each of whom have since grown up and had meltdowns. Chas (Ben Stiller) is a natural businessman who, since the death of his wife in a plane crash, spends his days being overprotective of his two boys. Richie (Luke Wilson) is the tennis star who had an unexplained meltdown in the final of a tournament and Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow) is the adopted daughter who became a successful playwright as a child. Etheline (Angelica Houston) is their mother, an archaeologist who pushed their potential. Eli (Owen Wilson) is the kid across the street who dreamed of being a Tenenbaum and has become a successful novelist. All these characters (and many more) come together and quirkiness ensues.

The Royal Tenenbaums 1Much like Wes Anderson’s previous film ‘Rushmore’, this film works as well as it does because of the lead actor. It was Jason Schwartzman as Max Fischer in ‘Rushmore’, and in ‘Tenenbaums’ it’s Gene Hackman. He makes what could’ve been just a shifty, selfish bastard into a hilarious shifty, selfish bastard. It’s a brilliant performance and completely unique. He has a certain cadence that naturally fits with the writing. Despite being a jerk to pretty much everyone, he’s never irritating and always amusing. Hopefully Hackman will appear in another Anderson film soon.

I’ve seen this film labelled a ‘dramedy’. I hate that term. And I don’t really think it fits anyway. I don’t particularly think it ever strays from being a comedy. Sure there are serious moments (in the context of the film), but it achieves more of a state of melancholy. So, hence forth, I’m labelling it a ‘melancomedy’.

The Royal Tenenbaums 5 Credit where credit is due. The writing in this film is phenomenal. Anderson and Owen Wilson have filled it with oddball characters, but made them believable. And each character has individual moments to shine. I particularly liked the story of how Pagoda (Kumar Pallana) and Royal met, and Dusty (Seymour Cassel) dishing out medical advice. The dialogue is hilarious, a lot of it due to Royal saying inappropriate or unsympathetic things like “I’m very sorry for your loss. Your mother was a terribly attractive woman.” or “Anybody interested in grabbing a couple of burgers and hittin’ the cemetery?” It’s noticeable that Anderson’s less successful later films weren’t co-written by Wilson.

The Royal Tenenbaums 3 The look of the film is one that has since become the Anderson trademark. It’s a throwback to the 70’s fashion, with a little 60’s and 80’s blended in there as well. It’s a distinctive look, and that’s difficult to achieve in todays films. He definitely see’s himself as a 70’s filmmaker. You always know you’re watching a Wes Anderson film. Just see his “The Fantastic Mr Fox” and you’ll understand what I mean. His animated stop motion film looks, sounds and feels like a companion piece to this.

The Royal Tenenbaums 8The film is narrated by Alec Baldwin and is edited as if it’s being read as an audio book. It’s one of the many stylistic choices that could have threatened the whole thing, but it pays off. Like Quentin Tarantino, Anderson’s films are notable for their music, and ‘Tenenbaums’ is filled with 70’s music from The Rolling Stones, Van Morrison and The Beatles.

I’ve seen ‘The Royal Tenenbaums’ numerous times and this melancomedy (not dramedy!) never fails to make me laugh. But it’s more serious moments find a way of endearing the film and making it even more memorable. And then there’s the dialogue…

As an example of the quality of the writing, here’s an exchange between Royal and Henry Sherman (Danny Glover).

Royal: I’ve always been considered an asshole for about as long as I can remember. That’s just my style. But I’d really feel blue if I didn’t think you were going to forgive me.

Henry: I don’t think you’re an asshole, Royal. I just think you’re kind of a son of a bitch.

Royal: Well, I really appreciate that.


#15 – Bad Santa (2003)

#16 – The Hurt Locker (2009)

#17 – Where The Wild Things Are (2009)

#18 – Kingdom of Heaven (2005) Directors Cut

#19 – High Fidelity (2000)

#20 – Friday Night Lights (2004)

#21 – Frequency (2000)


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About Judge Droid

In between refining my procrastination skills I talk a lot of shit about movies and such.

93 responses to “Droid defines the Decades best movies – #14 The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)”

  1. Droid says :

    Thank christ this review is over. It’s a bit shite, and doesn’t really do the flick justice but I really needed to get it out of the way so I can continue with the list!

  2. xiphos0311 says :

    This movie really took a dive for me on subsequent viewing and the amount of nerdgasms by film dorks REALLY put me off it. Hackman was great though.

  3. Tom_Bando says :

    Never saw it. Do Luke and Owen NOT play siblings in this?

  4. MORBIUS says :

    I may or might not have seen this, honestly can’t remember, but after reading your take on it I may have to seek it out. Hackman usually a plus, how was Cassel?

    The biggest drawback that I see is Lule Wilson, can’t watch TV for 5 minutes without his shilling for (that which must not be named) phone company!

    Still need to see ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox.

    Nice job Droid.

    • M. Blitz says :

      Oh man, those commercials are fucking terrible. But this movie isn’t. This movie is really very good.

      And Luke doesn’t look as though he were recently attacked by bees, like he does in the (irritatingly persistent, godawful) commercials. So sick of ’em, and I don’t even watch that much TV….they really are just always on.

    • Droid says :

      Is that the internet connection one? I was watching some NFL via the interwebs the other day and that ad kept popping up. In fact, every fucking commercial break played the exact same ads. Très annoying.

      • xiphos0311 says :

        Wilson does ads for a cellular carrier called AT&T. They are on constantly now because another carrier called Verizon scored a massive PR coup on them about coverages areas and AT&T is scrambling to fix the damage. At least that’s what the Wall Street journal told a while back.

      • Droid says :

        Okay. I kept seeing one where he was boasting about one companies (presumably AT&T) internet speed over another (presumably Verizon).

      • xiphos0311 says :

        Yep that’s the one.

      • Tom_Bando says :

        This is sad. I didn’t recognize him! Knew I knew the face, but…..

  5. jarv says :

    It’s a fair choice- and I was expexting someone to do an Anderson or 3, but I agree with Xi.

    I think, really, that I’m not big on quirkiness. I remember liking this without feeling any real need to go back to it.

  6. xiphos0311 says :

    No Frank you aren’t a film dork because you aren’t a pretencious asshat more concerned with looking like you know everything about movies then actually liking movies, or as it’s known in the common parlance, an “Asimovlives”

    • Tom_Bando says :

      AKA Mammaries of Mommy AKA BladerunneEunuch AKA Charlie GoatHumper.

      I always cringed whenever I saw Harold or one of his other cronies referring to Everyone who posts there as a ‘filmgeek’. Really Harold-?! Try the celery.

  7. Droid says :

    He’s retired? Damn.

  8. koutchboom says :

    I really like this movie. But I kind of hate rushmore. I think its just because I want to punch the main guy in the mouth the whole fucking time. I think the only time I’ve liked Shawrtzman was in Spun.

  9. koutchboom says :

    Overall I’m liking your list with the exception of The Hurt Locker, just because the movie didn’t hold up at all on second viewing.

  10. koutchboom says :

    Though I haven’t seen IB. Anyone else think that QT saw this and the use of Alec as the narrorator and stole the idea for Samuel doing it in IB?

    • Droid says :

      It’s not really the same thing in IB. The SLJ bit is only one scene. Like a newsreel (if memory serves). And the chapter cards in IB aren’t really there for any particular reason.

      • koutchboom says :

        ok. Need to see that fucking movie so I can do my best of 09 finally…..hint hint D9 is number one.

      • koutchboom says :

        Well actually I’ve owned D9 for like three weeks. I sort of afraid to watch it again, in fear that I won’t like it as much.

      • Droid says :

        Hint Hint… No shit.

      • koutchboom says :

        i mean unless Funny People or IB are really THAT GOOD!! I mean no was Funny People is, but IB has a shot.

      • Droid says :

        Did you see it more than once at the cinema?

        Its the true test. I’ve only seen it once.

      • koutchboom says :

        I’m trying to decide if I should count some films that I saw for the first time in 2009 but really came out in 2007, like Wild Things, PA, Trick Or Treat, Mirageman.

        I read somewhere that 2009 was a great year for movies that came out in 2007. Some horror movie a day blog thats real popular.

      • Jarv says :

        Wow. District 9?

        Shock revelation. We’d never have seen that coming.

      • koutchboom says :

        Naw. Didn’t see anything twice in the cinema this year. trying to convince my wife to see Avatar again. I may end up just going on my own.

  11. Droid says :

    IB isn’t. Funny People isn’t.

    • koutchboom says :

      How bad is funny People. It actually looks like it tries to rip off a lot from this movie. In terms of Sandlers character compared to Hackmans.

      • Droid says :

        It’s not terrible. It’s okay. Just kinda boring and way too long. Not very funny. It’s NOTHING like Tenenbaums.

      • koutchboom says :

        Cause in the trailers they present it as this guy (whos about to die) trying to go back and make amends and is a complete jerk. It takes place in his house. I bet Apatow thinks he’s as good as Anderson.

      • Droid says :

        Difference is Sandler actually IS dying. And he’s more of sad, lonely bloke than a hilarious shifty, selfish bastard.

        I don’t think Apatow would consider himself anything like Anderson. I think he’s modelled himself after James L. Brooks.

      • koutchboom says :

        Freaks and Geeks feels Andersonish.

      • Droid says :

        Maybe. I’d more say it felt John Hughes-ish.

      • Droid says :

        John Hughes by way of Linklater.

        Is how I’d describe F&G.

      • koutchboom says :

        Fine Apatow probably hasn’t even heard of Anderson then.

      • Droid says :

        You don’t like people disagreeing with you, do you Koutch?

      • Jarv says :

        Apatow probably hasn’t even heard of Anderson then.

        I’d go with that.

      • koutchboom says :

        Its not so much disagreeing with me, I’m fine with it. I agree with your thoughts. I think its more you don’t agree with me.

      • Jarv says :

        Seriously, Apatow is a talentless unfunny cunt who’s surrounded himself with other talentless unfunny cunts to make unfunny, cuntish films that annoy me.

        I may not be all for quirkiness a la Anderson, but I’ve never so much as smiled at an Apatow film, and have been seriously annoyed by a lot of them.

      • koutchboom says :

        Freeks and Geeks is the best thing he’s done. 40 Year Old Virgin was good, everything else is crap.

      • Droid says :

        Its not so much disagreeing with me, I’m fine with it. I agree with your thoughts. I think its more you don’t agree with me.

        I’m not quite sure that I follow.

      • Droid says :

        F&G was good. Undeclared was alright. 40YOV was good. Knocked Up had a few good moments.

        He doesn’t annoy me as much as you.

      • koutchboom says :

        I mean I said Apatow is kind of like Anderson. And instead of going, sure you persisted in naming other guys he’s more like. Which yes is true. But you wanna say that Apatow doesn’t owe anything to Anderson so you need to attack that thought.

        Plus I’m just not really in a argumentive mood today. So sure I’ll just agree with you that Apatow doesn’t owe anything to Anderson.

      • koutchboom says :

        Ugh I tried to watch Undecleared and maybe it was the half hour aspect of the show that held it back. It was just annoying to me. Plus I think I picked it up RIGHT after burning through Freeks and Geeks so it was odd to see these guys all in the 80s then all of the sudden they were in the 2000s.

      • koutchboom says :

        And what pissed me off about Knocked Up was probably critics. They went ON AND ON about how funny it was and how quotable it is. Also that it was better then 40 Year Virgin. Sooo I went in with these high expectations, then I came out going???? I paid money to see that? It looks like a made for TV film, and the story feels like a lifetime movie and the jokes were few and far between. If at all, I don’t think I laughed at anything in that movie….wait yeah the dinner scene were the guys were going on and on and the women had no idea what they were talking about.

      • Droid says :

        Well for starters I’m not “attacking” anyone. I’m merely stating my opinion. I never said you were wrong. You’ve assumed that.

        I wouldn’t have the first clue if Apatow “owes” anything to Anderson. But from what I’ve read of him, Apatows been around for a long time and in my opinion, he’s more like Brooks and Hughes than Anderson.

        But each to their own.

      • koutchboom says :

        Yeah he is more like them. But the use of the same group of people is more like Anderson then those two. Those two just use the same one or two people. All of Andersons movies and Apatows movies have pretty much the exact same cast.

        And yeah fuck Apatow has probably been around longer then Anderson, but his movies came out after Andersons.

      • Droid says :

        In terms of using a core group of actors as their mainstays, then yeah, they are similar.

      • koutchboom says :

        Ok how about this then. I caught like 20 minutes of Thank you for smoking last night, and was surprised that Reitman actually had a style in that movie, and the scenes I saw felt very Anderson like…but cut to Up in the Air a movie with no style, feels like he was aiming for Apatow’s lack of style (saying that the screenplay works on its own).

      • Jarv says :

        Don’t mistake lack of style with “being a talentless unfunny cunt” because Apatow is the latter rather than the former.

        I quite like Thank you for smoking.

      • Droid says :

        I fucking loathed Superbad.

        I’d have to watch Thankyou for smoking again(which is very doubtful), but I’ve almost forgotten Up In The Air. It’s all very innocuous filmmaking that won’t upset anyone. At least Anderson has a style you can either like or dislike.

      • koutchboom says :

        Well thats what I am saying. Smoking = Anderson. Up In the Air = Apatow.

        I don’t mind smoking its not nearly as bad as Up In the Air. Its just not funny for the most part, but after seeing some scenes last night I may have been too harsh. But the inclusion of the worst sex scene ever needs to be noted when talking about that movie.

      • koutchboom says :

        Yeah it is innocuous film making thats why I can’t stand that anyone would ever put Up in the Air as the best film of the year.

        Just because it shows that it didn’t even try. Why celebrate a movie that didn’t try to do anything? Sure like the script or some of the acting, but to say it was the best movie of the year, when it could’ve been made by anyone?

      • Jarv says :

        Worst sex scene in history= Watchmen.

        Do not debate me on this.

        Second worst= Showgirls. Although I do think Elizabeth Berkely thrashing around like a tasered dolphin is hilarious.

      • Droid says :

        Showgirls sex scene is AWESOME! It’s like she’s auditioning for Under Deep Blue Seige!

      • koutchboom says :

        Yeah Showgirls Sex Scene was awesome. Thank You For Smoking is the worst.

        Its like they wanted this hard corse R scene, but since Katie wouldn’t do it…they still went with it anyway. And they are moving around the office and aren’t they still almost fully clothed? It was just fucking stupid.

      • Jarv says :

        Sex scene in shoot em up is pretty fucking stupid as well.

      • koutchboom says :

        Yeah shit that MAY be worse, just because everyone is always. HOW CAN YOU NOT LIKE SHOOT’EM UPs SEX SCENE SHOOT OUT????

        Ummm easily because its lame. First off you Monica top off in everything, yet it what could be a funny as shit VERY R graphic scene, you got some lame scene that just doesn’t work.

        Everything Shoot’em Up thinks it is, Crank 2 actually is.

      • Droid says :

        Worst sex scene contenders are Body of Evidence (is that what its called? The Madonna one?) and that hilariously ridiculous Bruce Willis gets his knob out movie with Jane March.

      • koutchboom says :

        Colour of Night. I have that movie, need to watch it.

    • Jarv says :

      Haven’t seen Freaks and Geeks.

      Am unlikely to see Freaks and Geeks. Did not like 40 year old virgin at all, hated Superbad and Knocked up almost as much as HOD hates Blindness.

      • Tom_Bando says :

        Turdmen Sex scene is–regrettable, shall we say?

        Thank you for Smoking is a good movie. I enjoyed.

        Not into Apatow’s stuff. Haven’t watched much of’em. Caught some of 4o and whatever, but his stuff strikes me as badly warmed over ’80’s raunch comedies w/ just more body function stuff tossed in. Plus you really gotta like Steve Carrell (nails on chalkboard here) or that fat curly haired fucker who was in Superbad and etc. Pass.

        I say go w/ In Bruges instead, you’ll be much better off-

      • Droid says :

        Well, In Bruges is another kettle of fish. It’s nothing short of brilliant.

  12. Droid says :

    I should do a best of 2009 at some stage. hint hint… The Hurt Locker.

  13. Droid says :

    hint hint… or is it!?!?!?


  14. Droid says :

    I didn’t mind TYFS, but I just don’t think I’ll ever watch it again.

    UITA isn’t a bad film. It’s just bland as fuck and not nearly as poignant or “timely” as it thinks it is. It doesn’t offer any insight in to the realities of the economic crisis.

    I actually think that the economic crisis has detracted from the movie. Without that as a backdrop, it would just be the story of a guy that is a lonely nomad and is good at a horrible job.

    • koutchboom says :

      Yeah the whole economic crisis was really just one sentence in the film.

      Never once do you feel that Cloons was worried about losing a job. Plus he fires people for a living…thats what he did. SO no matter when you film him he’s ALWAYS going to be firing people. Maybe if the movie was from the viewpoint of the ivy league top of the class girl who saw that the firing buisness was booming and she wanted some of that money, it would be “timely”. But that guy going around firing people really was just another day at the job for him. Its like he probably wouldn’t even notice that more people are losing jobs.

      Actually I think the fact that the book was written pre 9/11, and since then SOOO much has changed in flying, and non of that is addressed that it actually makes the movie dated.

      • M. Blitz says :

        What wasn’t addressed about air travel? They have that whole sequence in the airport of going through all the security procedures, taking off belts and shoes, they allude to “random” screenings, a couple of shots of how long the lines are, etc. That’s really all that’s changed, at least on domestic flights (I wouldn’t know about international)…

        I had a traveling job out of D.C. when 9/11 happened, and we were all surprised by how little air travel changed….Sure, waits were slightly longer and the presence of armed teenage MP’s could be somewhat unnerving, but most of the talk about how Totally Different it was just came across as hype. At least, until the ‘shoe bomber’, and subsequent shoe-removal requirement. Annoying but not unbearable. The main change, from our perspective, was that our boss required us to get to the airport much earlier, and for no good reason, so we’d be stuck just sitting around drinking BK coffee or passing back and forth through security to smoke. For hours.

    • Droid says :

      Lastly on this, I also found it shit that she walked straight in to another job at the end. You make a movie about how times are tough and everyones getting laid off and jobs are scarce, then you go show a main character QUIT then walk in to another job. It’s completely fucked.

  15. Jarv says :


    A misplaced comma/ sloppy syntax and all chaos is unleashed:

    “I haven’t seen it, but one of the papers, by accident, released that the character got rehired.”

    Happy now?

  16. Jarv says :


    What the fuck happened?

  17. M. Blitz says :

    I haven’t seem that one yet. I’ve really liked most of Wes Anderson’s movies (wasn’t that big on the train one, though). And I love stop-motion. I don’t know. Been a bit nervous about seeing it for some reason…

  18. Tom_Bando says :

    There is that Other Owen Wilson/Hackman flick-Behind Enemy Lines AKA ‘Weather Continuity Errors as far’s the eyes can see’. It’s the A-Team all over.

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