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Sunday September 25th

Tenenbaums Tread Fine Line of Ingenuity, Satire

3 Stars

The photographic rule of thirds states that a picture should be divided into three both horizontally and vertically, and the subject of the picture should lie along one of the dividing lines to create visual interest.

In simpler terms, a serious photographer would never take a shot of someone smack dab in the middle of the frame.

Yet almost every single shot in "The Royal Tenenbaums" does just that, violating one of the great tenets of the visual arts in order to showcase its complicated characters in a portrait-like format.

This oddity is just one of many that "The Royal Tenenbaums" employs in its attempt to create an absurdist, satirically dark comedy.

Gene Hackman deftly portrays Royal, the patriarch of the Tenenbaums who reunites with his estranged family by falsely reporting he has been diagnosed with terminal stomach cancer.

But once his deceit is uncovered, his tenuous connection with his wife and three brilliant children wears dangerously thin.

The ingenuity of the film lies with the characters of the three children, Chas (Ben Stiller), Richie (Luke Wilson) and Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow). These three carry the film, and their perfect, deadpan deliveries are spot on with the weirdly delectable material they're given.

The directing and pacing is tight, the supporting cast is great and there are moments that sing with joy. One such moment occurs when Royal attempts to lighten up his straight-laced grandchildren by teaching them to cross the street against the stoplight and ride on the back of a garbage truck -- activities that their safety-obsessed father would surely discourage.

Owen Wilson, who co-wrote the film with director Wes Anderson, appears as Eli Cash, a childhood friend of the Tenenbaum brood. His performance is fine, but he serves merely as a plot device; his character takes up space that could have been better spent on the Tenenbaum children.

Additionally, the admirable attempts taken by the writers to subtly lampoon feel-good family dramas take a drastic turn when the film falls back onto the formulaic plot twists of the movies it's satirizing.

It just goes to show that when playing with artistic boundaries, whether it be through the placement of objects in a frame or via a surrealist script, the result doesn't automatically qualify as great art.

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