The Royal Tenenbaums

Take a mouth-watering cast that includes Gene Hackman, Anjelica Huston, Ben Stiller, Gwyneth Paltrow, Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, Bill Murray and Danny Glover and you're well on the way to a screen hit of mammoth proportions.

Take a mouth-watering cast that includes Gene Hackman, Anjelica Huston, Ben Stiller, Gwyneth Paltrow, Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, Bill Murray and Danny Glover and you're well on the way to a screen hit of mammoth proportions.

The Royal Tenenbaums, a complex story of family relationships, has picked up an Academy Award nomination - to be decided at the end of the month - in Best Original Screenplay category (for director Wes Anderson and actor Owen Wilson) and should have collected several more.

Small, ugly statuettes - the nomination lack of - will not bother Anderson too much for he knows he has a massive critical hit on his hands, one of those dark, off-the-wall ensemble comedies that is packed from titles to credits with quality. It has also taken over $50m (€57m) in the USA alone.

"We had the idea of a family of geniuses, each being good at a particular skill," says Anderson, who with Wilson brought audiences the excellent Bottle Rocket and Rushmore.

"But family life was so awful that it left each of the children not equipped to deal with the sort of problems the rest of us are capable of facing."

Hackman, an actor who never lets you down, plays a bankrupt businessman, Royal Tenenbaum, who finds that his off-spring have turned into a collection of slightly mad and bitter characters ... geniuses they may have once been, but to say they were now flawed would be to praise them highly.

Anderson and Wilson met at University in Texas, formed a lasting friendship and a solid working partnership, based on a shared outlook, as Wilson explains: "Being from similar backgrounds, we love movies and our humour isn't mean-spirited or cynical. It's enthusiastic and earnest ... and it comes naturally to us. We just sort of do it!"

The success of the Tanenbaums is that the writing is as off-centre as the storyline itself, or the casting, often against type.

When Anderson set about gathering together his cast one of the first names on his list - as it is with everybody else - was Hackman: "He's a legend ... he can be tough and funny and charming. And he was perfect for the role of Royal."

For his part, Hackman was adamant about one thing when he and Anderson first started talking about the movie. The award-winning actor didn't want the role to be written specifically with him in mind.

Hackman doesn't, he says, like being restricted to other people's notions of who he is ... "I told him not to do it ... and he went off and did it anyway!"

A great deal of the character-driven story comes, swears Anderson, from real situations, which shows that he must have come across some odd-ball situations in his life.

"It's a script that is packed with wonderfully dead-pan humour," says Hackman, "It's a subtle, inventive and very funny story that begs to be acted well."

And when it comes to acting well, none of the cast sells itself short ... turning out a movie that illustrates the growing feeling that, at last, Hollywood is growing up and realising that dumbing-down is the road to nowhere.

* The Royal Tenenbaums opens on March 15.

More in this section

IE Logo

ABHAILE

Your guide to staying at home

#ChoosetoChallenge

Join us for our International Women’s Day virtual lunchtime celebration on Monday, March 8 from 1pm

HOME DELIVERY SERVICE

Have the Irish Examiner delivered to your door. No delivery charge. Just pay the cover price.