The Royal Tenenbaums

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

The Royal Tenenbaums is a 2001 dark comedy directed by Wes Anderson and written by Anderson and Owen Wilson. Probably the first Wes Anderson film to really hit the mainstream, it was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.

The movie depicts Royal Tenenbaum's attempts at getting closer to his family after failing to pay rent at the Lindbergh Palace Hotel. He fakes stomach cancer to gain their sympathy and access to the family home. Like most Wes Anderson films, it is marked with quirky sets and costumes, as well as much deadpan humor.

A kind of sister movie to Wes Anderson's later project The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, which has nearly identical cast and a similar (though much more dream-like) atmosphere.

Tropes used in The Royal Tenenbaums include:
  • Big Applesauce: Despite taking place in New York City, Anderson went to great lengths to avoid any major landmarks. There's a scene earlier in the film - when Pagoda and Royal meet in Battery Park - in which Pagoda blocks the Statue of Liberty.
  • Big Screwed-Up Family
  • Bittersweet Ending: Royal manages patch things up with his family, even when it comes to light he doesn't actually have cancer. (He only say as such to get his family to talk to him). However he later dies of a heart attack.
  • Black Comedy
  • Brother-Sister Incest: averted -- ADOPTED sister.
  • Bungled Suicide: Richie
  • Expy / Shout-Out: Word of God has it that Eli is a combined expy of authors Cormac McCarthy and Jay McInerney. Similarly, Margot's first husband - a Jamaican reggae musician named Desmond - is supposed to be reggae legend Desmond Dekker.
  • Film of the Book: The film's conceit is that it's based on a (nonexistent) best-selling book.
  • First Father Wins: Royal patches up his relationship with the kids, but doesn't remarry his ex though.
  • Foot Focus: A barefoot Margot uses her toes to turn a doorknob.
  • Guess Who I'm Marrying: Only it's the ex-husband who has a problem with this more than the kids.
    • Chas is less than stoked, at first.
  • Important Haircut: Subverted when Richie cuts his hair/shaves just before a suicide attempt
  • Incest Is Relative
  • Insistent Terminology: Royal always introduced Margot as his adopted daughter.
  • I Take Offense to That Last One: After a private detective reveals Margot's secrets, including numerous illicit affairs, Raleigh's first response is, "She smokes?"
    • Although it makes sense in the emotional sense of the scene, not only did Margot cheat on him, he never even found out that his wife of several years is a smoker, basically showing that he didn't know her at all.
      • Discovering his ignorance of this fact might particularly sting, considering that to observe behavior is mostly what Raleigh does for a living.
      • The fact that no one knows that she smokes is also something of a Running Gag.
  • Limited Wardrobe: One of the few live action examples. Every Tenenbaums child has a uniform that doesn't really change throughout the film/their entire lives.
    • Chas then retires his (and his sons') when Royal dies.
    • Chas's retirement of his wardrobe is a sign of character growth: Word of God says that he dressed himself and his sons in bright red track suits at all times so that if there was an emergency in a crowded place, they could spot one another easily. By retiring this, it shows he's going to stop being so overprotective of his kids.
  • Narrator: The narration is by Alec Baldwin.
  • Not Blood Siblings: Richie and Margot.
  • The Oner
  • Parental Favoritism: Richie is easily the favorite of the family. Royal told everyone he met Margot was adopted, and would introduce her as, "My adopted daughter." Chaz had money stolen from him by Royal several times, usually by way of Royal have control over his businesses while he was still a minor, and seems to harbor the most resentment to his father in adulthood. Richie got along well with Royal, who took him to (admittedly seedy) places around the city. When Royal comes back, Richie is the only one who hits it off with him right away, although Royal is a bit disappointed Richie lost his famous match (due to having placed a large bet that he'd win).
  • Present Day Past: Although the characters age approximately twenty years between the prologue and the "present day" of the movie, it's still kinda the seventies...with some current music and technology, and dates on two gravestones clearly stating 2000 and 2001.
    • This is defining trait of Wes Anderson.
  • Redemption Equals Death: Though it takes a while for Royal to find out.
    • You could argue Royal invoked this Trope to get his family to forgive him, by way of faking a terminal illness.
  • Shout-Out: A brother and sister living in a museum (hiding inside, at night) is more-or-less the plot of E.L. Konigsburg's From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Minus the Squick, as it was a children's novel. Another literary reference: a character in J.D. Salinger's Franny and Zooey is endlessly in the bathtub, smoking. Wrong gender, though, to be like Margot. However, given the prominence in Salinger's fiction of child prodigies--and Manhattan as a setting--it seems unlikely to be coincidental.
  • Spiritual Sequel: The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou.
  • Take That: Peter Bradley, the talk show host who interviews Eli badly, is based on Charlie Rose. (The Criterion edition DVD of Rushmore has among its bonus features Charley Rose interviews with Wes Anderson & Bill Murray. During the course of both interviews, Rose repeatedly states the main character's motivation as wanting his face on Mount Rushmore.)
  • Teen Genius: All three Tenenbaum children are subversions/deconstructions.
  • Walking the Earth: Or sailing the Earth, which Richie did after he learned Margot was married.
  • You're Not My Father: Royal pulls a variant on Margot, and gets it thrown back in his face.

Royal: (talking about Henry) He's not your father.
Margot: Neither are you.

  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: Royal fakes stomach cancer in order to reconnect with his family. Henry finds out it's a lie with little difficulty.