The Darjeeling Limited
2007, R, 91 min. Directed by Wes Anderson. Starring Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, Jason Schwartzman, Anjelica Huston, Amara Karan, Wally Wolodarsky, Bill Murray, Irfan Khan.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Oct. 12, 2007
With his fifth feature film, Anderson boards another train of ironic whimsy, although this time the train is quite literal and not just the train of thought in his head. An aura of preciousness remains as the filmmaker again pairs his stylized images and storytelling with characters and a plot that resist neat categorizations, twins narrative events with telling pieces of Britpop music (the Kinks, especially), and searches for emotional connections among ironically detached characters. The coyness begins even before The Darjeeling Limited opens: Anderson requests viewers to go to iTunes and check out his short film "Hotel Chevalier," starring Schwartzman and Natalie Portman, as the short offers background material on the reasons for the funk experienced in Darjeeling by Schwartzman's character, Jack Whitman. In the feature, Jack joins his brothers, Francis (Wilson) and Peter (Brody), for a spiritual journey and reunion tour. The three have been physically apart since their father's death a year ago, so the compulsive Francis, like the older brother he is, has organized this train ride through India. Somewhere near the end of the journey is their aloof mother (Huston), a nun in a Himalayan outpost who neglected to return stateside for her husband's funeral. Like the Whitman Sampler they are, each brother is marked by a unique bundle of quirky traits. Each one also carries matching pieces of their father's luggage set (designed especially for the film by Marc Jacobs for Louis Vuitton in a triumph of product placement and a low point in literalism, as baggage must be shed before Darjeeling is through). In large measure, the film is a basic road picture, enhanced by compelling characters and atmosphere but reluctant to really go anywhere. Brody, the newcomer to Anderson's world, has an appealing comic edge that hasn't been displayed much in his previous work. Wilson, whose character's head is wrapped in bandages from a near-fatal motorcycle wipeout, presents an image that cuts a little close to the bone, given the actor's recent hospitalization, even though his Francis is always a hoot to observe. Schwartzman, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Anderson and Roman Coppola, is the least interesting of the three, although the group's camaraderie feels like the real filial deal. And perhaps that's what remains haunting about The Darjeeling Limited: The film has real texture (not unlike their baggage), even though you get the feeling the texture is more sensation than substance. Still, it's a hard film to shake, and there's an awful lot to be said for that. Just don't shake Darjeeling too hard: There's nothing to read in these tea leaves.