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The Royal Tenenbaums

The Royal Tenenbaums is the bizarre and unpredictable black comedy of family dysfunction that combines the loopy sensibility of Woody Allen with the absurdist theater stylings of Edward Albee and provides surprises and laughs from opening to closing credits.

Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman) and his estranged wife, Ethilene (Anjelica Huston) raised three children together who all turned out to be different kinds of child prodigies: Chas (Ben Stiller) was a child financial wiz who is now raising twin sons and has never really gotten over the death of their mother; adopted daughter, Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow) was a professional playwright by the time she was 12, is now married to an older psychiatrist (Bill Murray) and lays around in the bathtub all day watching TV; Richie (Luke Wilson) was a teenage tennis champ who cracked up on the court one day, hasn't played since and now claims to be in love with Margot, as is his childhood friend, Eli (Owen Wilson). The fun begins when Royal announces that he's dying and that he wants to reconnect with his family, especially the grandsons he's never met.

This is a bizarre cinematic canvas but it works due the consistently entertaining central character. Royal Tenenbaum is a lousy husband, lousy father, you can practically see the grease sliding off of him and it's impossible to believe anything that comes out of his mouth, another great movie character who speaks without filter, but whether or not it's the truth is the question but you don't really care because the guy is so darned likable and that is due to Gene Hackman's sparkling performance that earned him a Golden Globe and his chemistry with Anjelica Huston is viable and you can still see the love between these two people even if they're not together anymore.

The screenplay by director Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson makes a couple of detours into facets of the prodigies' lives that just aren't that interesting. As long as the story stays focused on the rascally Royal, the movie is witty and vibrant and when it's not, you might find yourself looking at your watch. But Anderson and Wilson's screenplay and the acting genius of Gene Hackman make this journey a joy.