“I’ve always been considered an asshole for about as long as I can remember,” says Royal Tenenbaum to his ex-wife’s fiancé, Henry Sherman, “but I’d really feel blue if I didn’t think you were going to forgive me.”
“I don’t think you’re an asshole, Royal,” replies Sherman at length, “I just think you’re kind of a son of a bitch.”
On paper, this guy is a real piece of work. He neglected, extorted and then abandoned his children to return only when he was broke and needed a place to stay (for the purposes of which he faked stomach cancer), he betrayed his wife, was sued and disbarred and then got himself imprisoned for what we are given to surmise was tax fraud. And yet in spite of all this, we absolutely adore the wily old bastard with his roguish charm, his growling mendacity and that glint in his shrewd, heavily spectacled eyes which suggests that if you fuck with him, you’ll later find that a $500 bar tab has been graciously opened in your name and your tyres have been knifed.
It’s late as I write this and I can’t be arsed to go through the many reasons why I love the despicable old badger but what I do find a source of never-ending joy is the way he interacts with his two estranged grandchildren. When, upon meeting them for the first time, he consoles the wide-eyed sprogs on the death of their mother by offering “I’m sorry for your loss – your mother was a terribly attractive woman”, you know this is a man of rare distinction.
The thing of it is that he flatly refuses to talk down to children – a doctrine which, if you absolutely have to acknowledge them at all (and it is something I try to avoid), seems a most sensible one. It doesn’t enter his mind, for instance, that a child would not have the emotional maturity to handle being told that their Fourth Grade play (starring a menagerie of singing animals) “didn’t seem believable” or that they may lack the wherewithal to derive much meaning from a statement like “I got jacked by the IRS”.
None of this saccharine, mind-melting mawkishness for Royal Tenenbaum.
He arrives on the scene, cigarette-holder clamped ubiquitously ‘twixt cackling teeth, with the sole purpose of “brewing some recklessness into” his limp-wristed lineage. So he takes the little nitwits out on the town to tutor them in the ways of gambling, theft and vandalism and returns them tired, happy and spattered with what he soothingly informs their father is “dog’s blood”.
Give that man a coconut.