The Royal Tenenbaums (15)

Review by Jack Foley

EVERY once in a while a film comes along which really makes you sit up and take notice. The Royal Tenenbaums is that kind of movie.

It is as star-studded as Ocean's Eleven, it boasts a terrific director and is billed as a comedy, but it is also a million miles away from the Hollywood mainstream, dealing with its themes of family, betrayal and failure with intelligence and verve.

The Royal Tenenbaums of the title are a dysfunctional family of New Yorkers, headed by Gene Hackman's tyrannical father and Angelica Huston's doting mother, whose three children - Chas, Richie and Margot - began life as child geniuses before turning into adult misfits.

Chas (played by Ben Stiller) started buying real estate in his early teens and possessed a shrewd financial mind, Richie (Luke Wilson) was a junior tennis champion and won the US Nationals three years in a row, and Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow) was a playwright and received a Braverman Grant of $50,000 in the ninth grade.

But after years of manipulation and mis-management by their father, the three children entered adulthood ill-suited to deal with any of the problems they would face. Chas lost his wife in a fire and became obsessed with the safety of his children, Richie suffered a mental breakdown on a tennis court because of his unrequited love for his adopted sister, and Margot entered a state of acute isolation and drifted into a marriage with Bill Murray's eminent neurologist.

The film picks up as Hackman's exiled Royal Tenenbaum seeks a reunion with his wife and children by faking a terminal disease, forcing each of them to confront their feelings for each other and address what they have become.

Watching from the sidelines, meanwhile, are Danny Glover's family accountant, who's also Huston's suitor, and Owen Wilson's stoned author and childhood friend, who seeks nothing more than to be accepted as a Tenenbaum.

Given that The Royal Tenenbaums is co-written by Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson (who penned the equally quirky Rushmore) it should come as little surprise to hear that its mix of offbeat humour and touching revelations won't appeal to everyone.

But for those seeking something a little bit different, the rewards are plenty. Set in a kind of mystical New York, Anderson's movie is a richly rewarding experience, populated by terrific characters (Hackman, the pick of the bunch, won a Golden Globe earlier this year), some great writing and some brilliantly conceived sight gags.

It might not sound in concept like the humdinger it is, but viewers are unlikely to find a more intelligent, funny, poignant or memorable Hollywood production this year.