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The Royal Tenenbaums

Family Isn't A Word... It's A Sentence. 

Year: 2001 
Running Time:
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1 (Scope) 
Certificate: BBFC 15 Cert – Not suitable for under 15s 
Subtitles: This film is not expected to be subtitled, though this cannot be guaranteed. 
Directed by Wes Anderson 
Starring: Gene Hackman, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Stiller  
An image from The Royal Tenenbaums

Original is a word that is banded about with near desperation in these times of endless re-makes of old movies and tv shows. However original is the only justifiable way to describe The Royal Tenenbaums, a work of such jaw-dropping imagination and execution that to call it quirky would be an insult of the highest order.

Gene Hackman plays Royal Tenenbaum, a neglectful father of three childhood prodigies who are all now suffering premature mid-life crises. All three tortured offspring return to the family home to find Royal declaring that he has only a few months to live and that he wants to make amends. No-one is that keen to forgive Royal that easily.

The Royal Tenenbaums seems determined to keep you slightly on edge throughout. This is partly achieved by it being impossible to work out when the film is set (the style of everything says that it is the seventies, but up to date computers and the like can be glimpsed). However what sounds like a bleak film is filled with some of the most sublime comic lines you are likely to see this year.

More than anything The Royal Tenebaums amazes with the more famous but lesser talented (on the evidence of their work to date) members of the cast proving their worth in spectacular fashion. Gwyneth Paltrow proves the incredible fact that there is room for acting ability in her nano-technologically produced broom handle frame. Wearing black eye make up that Dusty Springfield would have killed for, she looks all the world like the victim of a particularly vicious fairy tale and her blank glare says more about her characters internal emotional pain than any script ever could.

Those who have seen the film before might want to look out for how the font used in the credits is repeated over every piece of text in the film from hotel entrances to taxi doors or the Rolling Stones album that plays in the background but with the tracks in the wrong order. Those who haven't seen the film before will be too engrossed in a work of sheer blinding genius.

David Goody

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Screenings of this film:

2002/2003 Autumn Term (35mm)
2021/2022 Summer Term (digital)