Review: The Darjeeling Limited
THE DARJEELING LIMITED, Wes Anderson's fourth studio film, offers more of the same from the director. If you've seen more than one of his other films, you can pretty much take a guess at what we'll see here. Beautiful visuals, slow motion sequences set to soulful 70s rock, at least one Rolling Stones song, characters dealing with father issues, humor, a melancholy third act and that Wes Anderson font (what IS that font anyway?). But since when is more of the same such a bad thing? While it's certainly got that Anderson style, DARJEELING is just as good if not better than THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS and perhaps just a hair shy of RUSHMORE.
The movie follows three brothers (Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody and Jason Schwartzman) that haven't seen each other since their father's funeral a year ago. Francis (Wilson), the oldest and wealthiest of the three, arranges for them to take a train ride across India (on the Darjeeling Express) in hopes they'll find some kind of Siddhartha-like enlightenment and bond as siblings. As you might expect, things do exactly go over as planned. Despite Francis' best laid plans (including a personal assistant creating itineraries with a laminating machine) things go horribly awry. They're kicked off the train, their mother doesn't want to see them and the brothers are simply having a hard time getting along.
None of the brothers are particularly likable throughout their journey. Francis is bossy and controlling. Peter (Brody) and his wife are having a baby and he left for their trip without telling her. Jack (Schwartzman) is still mourning an ex-girlfriend and wants to abort the trip early to head to Italy (where he and said ex-girlfriend may rendezvous). But as we learn more about their troubled times and especially through a shocking somber plot turn, we sympathize with them more and more until we feel like one of their dysfunctional family.
While it is true that the film is very much a Wes Anderson film (as many of DARJEELING's detractors have been quick to mention), it is a very well done Wes Anderson film. I ask why it's such a bad thing for a director to do what he does best. There are plenty of people wishing Woody Allen would do more of the same stuff that made him an icon but he's content doing SCOOP or CASSANDRA'S DREAM. Anderson knows what works for him and while he doesn't leave his comfort zone, per se, this film certainly hones his style to create his most commercial film yet.
Anderson has always done a remarkable job at drawing exceptional performances out of his actors and DARJEELING is no exception. Out of the three actors, Brody shines the brightest, though in fairness his character is given a bit more of the dramatic weight. Wilson is in top form as the constantly bandaged tragicomic relief (a character who somewhat eerily abuses over-the-counter drugs and alludes to attempting suicide). Schwartzman spends most of his time as the sullen and contemplative romantic (Francis calls him the "lone wolf"). Given more screen time Angelica Huston - in an extended cameo as the mother of the brood - could've earned an Oscar nomination.
DARJEELING is the most obviously funny of the Anderson films. I've always found myself somewhat amused by his work but rarely laughing out loud but there were plenty of instances in DARJEELING where I was doing just that. It's that same dry, RUSHMORE sense of humor though so don't go in expecting SUPERBAD.
Once again Anderson proves he's second only to Martin Scorsese in orchestrating his films with popular music with a soundtrack that includes The Rolling Stones and numerous Kinks tunes included the standout track "Strangers." I defy you to watch this movie and not hum at least one of the songs afterwards.
Before I wrap this up, I should mention that the screening I saw was preceeded by the short film "Hotel Chevalier," which I'm sure you've heard of by now (Portman, nudity, etc., etc...). Why this short is not being attached to the theatrical print, I'll never know. There are direct references to the short in the movie, a number of really funny beats that won't be funny if you haven't seen the short and Natalie Portman even makes a cameo appearance at the end of the film. My recommendation is to watch the short on iTunes before you see the movie. It's not necessary but it adds another layer to this already enjoyable film.
Final rating: 8/10