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Dysfunction junction

Andy Stonehouse

“The Royal Tennenbaums”

Starring Gene Hackman, Anjelica Huston, Danny Glover, Ben Stiller, Gwyneth Paltrow, Bill Murray, Luke Wilson and Owen Wilson; directed by Wes Anderson

Showtimes: 4, 7:05 and 9:30 p.m. today; 1:25, 4, 7:05 and 9:30 p.m. Saturday; 1:25, 4, and 7:05 p.m. Sunday; and 4 and 7:05 p.m. Monday through Thursday, Skyline Cinema, Dillon

Run time: 110 minutes

Rated R

It’s sometimes reassuring to see that movie reviewers (at least those who do actually exist, unlike Sony’s imaginary blurb-meisters outed last summer) can have such completely different opinions on exactly the same material. Or maybe it just depends whose reviews you’re reading.

Wes Anderson’s “The Royal Tenenbaums,” which first hit local screens last weekend, seems to have generated one of those 50-50 splits among critics – half of those who see it find it a brilliant, albeit slightly busy expose of contemporary family dysfunction, while the other half have said it’s a completely contrived, poorly developed and haphazard effort.

There’s truth to both – “The Royal Tenenbaums” is anything but traditional, and certainly weird enough to rattle those who’d rather watch a yawner like “Kate and Leopold.”

But there’s a certain charm in Anderson’s tale of familial eccentricity and total and complete dysfunction, brought to life by a large and talented ensemble cast. And while there’s an obvious level of pretension to the whole affair (Anderson’s last movie, “Rushmore,” shared a similar feel), it’s clever and wonderfully original.

Set in a New York that’s been described as a New York imagined by people who don’t actually live there, the movie follows the partial reconciliation of world-grade ass and deadbeat dad Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman) and his strange kids. And they’re all perfect examples of peaking too soon: Chas (Ben Stiller) made a million before his teens breeding Dalmatian mice, but is now a washed-up father of two who’s still reeling from the death of his wife; Margot (a likeably comatose Gwyneth Paltrow), the adopted daughter, blossomed as a teen playwright but has messed it all up with ill-advised marriages; and Richie (Luke Wilson), once was a world champion tennis player but now is a troubled world traveler who still dresses in sweatbands.

When their own collective messed up lives implode, the trio opts to move back home with mom, archaeologist Etheline (Anjelica Huston), who’s being actively wooed by her longtime business associate, Henry Sherman (Danny Glover).

Unfortunately, she’s still technically married to Royal, and when he’s finally kicked out of the hotel he’s called home for almost a decade, he arrives on the family’s doorstep – and fakes cancer to get a second chance to hang out with the kids, a delightfully sleazy move.

There’s also sexual tension afoot between Richie, Margot and Eli Cash (Owen Wilson), the kids’ childhood friend (and serious Tennenbaum wannabe) who’s now a successful but completely stoned cowboy novelist – and one of Margot’s many suitors.

What follows is a wonderfully unconventional take on post-modern family relations, set in a universe that seems more than slightly removed from our own. It’s like they’re neighbors to the bear-suited lesbians and incestuous wrestlers of those early John Irving novels, but just a bit more peculiar.

Though they live in the present, the entire Tenenbaum clan seems to be caught in the middle of a perpetual 1970s flashback. Kind of like being perpetually stuck in your parents’ basement rec room, complete with your entire childhood J.C. Penney wardrobe intact.

Things are also cemented through a fantastic musical score by Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh. Thinking about it, any movie that can successfully appropriate music from “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” the Ramones and the Rolling Stones – as well as the wonderful, Muzak-y seven-minute rendition of “Hey Jude” that accompanies the film’s opening sequence – is almost too weird for its own good.

But in the universe of “The Royal Tenenbaums,” it’s all good. Anderson’s made a concerted effort to build on peculiarity, from fake New York landmarks (like the 375th Street Y and the crap-ola gypsy cabs) to documentary-style on-screen titles. And if you’re able to completely suspend your disbelief (if you can’t, I wouldn’t even bother trying to attempt the movie), it’s a worthwhile experience.

Hackman’s particularly wonderful as the absolutely amoral Royal, dressed up in suits that would make Tom Wolfe envious and practically giddy with sleaze. The Wilson brothers also do a great job as oddballs vying for Paltrow’s affections – the movie’s closest John Irving touch.

“The Royal Tenenbaums” runs 110 minutes and is rated R, showing daily at the Skyline Cinema.


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