The Royal Tenenbaums
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
The Royal Tenenbaums is the 2001 dramatic comedy about three genius siblings who experience great success in youth, and even greater disappointment and failure after their eccentric father leaves them in their adolescent years. A largely off-beat, ironic, absurdist sense of humor pervades the entire film. As with all of director Wes Anderson's work, the tone of the film is one of hilarious tragedy and revels in the small joys of conversation and camaraderie.
The film features an ensemble cast, including Anjelica Huston as Etheline Tenenbaum, Owen Wilson as Eli Cash, Luke Wilson as Richie Tenenbaum, Ben Stiller as Chas Tenenbaum, Gwyneth Paltrow as Margot Tenenbaum, Danny Glover as Henry Sherman, Gene Hackman as Royal Tenenbaum and Bill Murray as Raleigh St. Clair. Alec Baldwin narrates.
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 a rabble of similarly disillusioned siblings from the later books of famed author J.D. Salinger. The Glass family, composed of seven child-prodigy-turned-adult-misanthrope characters, is the central subject of three of Salinger's four published books, and form the basis for the quirky and unhappy Tenenbaum family, as director Wes Anderson revealed in an interview with Premiere magazine conducted in January 2001.
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 J.D. Salinger's book Franny and Zooey, when Bessie Glass spends quite a bit of time bothering her son Zooey Glass.
Another key influence was Orson Welles's film The Magnificent Ambersons. Ambersons is 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, as in The Royal Tenenbaums.
Some members of the Tenenbaum family are actually modeled after members of cinematographer Robert Yeoman's brother-in-law Walter Karnas's family. Certain small points of family members were exaggerated to make the character its own. The part of Royal Tenenbaum was written for Gene Hackman, but written after Walter Karnas himself. The same goes for the three Tenenbaum children, partially written after three of the Karnas children.
Etheline Tenenbaum, played by Anjelica Huston, was modeled after Wes Anderson's own mother. Anderson's mother similarly adopted archaeology after divorcing her husband. The glasses Etheline wears are actually Mrs. Anderson's. At one point during filming, Anjelica Huston asked Wes Anderson if she was, in fact, supposed to be playing his mother.
Two of the film's characters are thought to be modeled after popular culture icon 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.
Ari and Uzi's beagle Buckley is a tribute both to singer/songwriter Jeff Buckley and, as a beagle, to the Peanuts character Snoopy. Buckley's replacement by a dalmatian named "Spark Plug" near the end of the film may be a homage to Peanut's creator Charles M. Schulz, who was given the same nickname by his uncle. Furthermore, the instrumental and vocal versions of the song "Christmas Time Is Here" from A Charlie Brown Christmas are played in the film.
The name for the movie was inspired, in part, by a longtime friend of Wes Anderson, Brian Tenenbaum, who has appeared in several of Anderson's movies in bit parts. In the Royal Tenenbaums he is one of the paramedics seen at the end of the film.
Henry Sherman is the name of Wes Anderson's former landlord. When the character of Henry Sherman is introduced in the film, he is standing in front of an apartment with a sign that says "H. Sherman - Landlord".
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.
Luke Wilson's character Richie takes two self portrait shots, the second showing similarities to Stanley Kubrick's self portrait photo.