You might label “The Darjeeling Limited” a comedy, a drama or even a Satyajit Ray tribute, but in truth, the film fits into only one genre: Wes.
In his fifth feature, writer-director Wes Anderson takes us on a journey across India with three estranged brothers, employing all of his trademark compositions and techniques. The siblings travel in search of spirituality and a familial closeness that can only come from a vacation bound to an itinerary.
A frenzied cab ride with a cameo from Anderson trouper Bill Murray (“Broken Flowers”) starts the show, leading the film to a crowded train station. Entering at a full-on sprint is Peter (Adrien Brody, “The Pianist”), a member of the picture’s primary trio, who appears alongside Murray, jumping onto a train called The Darjeeling Limited. Brody’s introduction to the film is ushered in by a beautiful slow-motion shot accompanied by The Kinks’s “This Time Tomorrow,” one of three songs the band contributes to the movie.
The fast-paced intro might be Anderson’s attempt at an action sequence, but with Murray in the back seat, it’s hard not to crack a smile.
Wading through packed train cars, Peter reaches the first-class compartment where brother Jack (Jason Schwartzman, “Rushmore”) is situated, and soon they are joined by Francis (Owen Wilson, “Wedding Crashers”). Though the mood of the gathering is somewhat somber – it’s been a year since the brothers last saw each other at their father’s funeral – Wilson’s ever-recognizable grin peaking through a mass of bandages brings an undeniable joviality to the scene.
Thus begins their odyssey, coordinated by Francis, the most audible and emphatic about restoring a brotherly bond. His almost youthful enthusiasm is reminiscent of Wilson’s first acting role as Dignan in Anderson’s “Bottle Rocket.”
Traveling through India by train, the brothers set out to appreciate and pray at all of the religious hot spots in hopes of finding themselves, yet their greatest cultural finding comes in the shady purchase of a poisonous snake. The simple crux is that these brothers are entirely self-possessed despite participating in a trip revolving around selflessness and familial togetherness. Welcome to the Whitman family.
Shortly after getting kicked off the train, the brothers happen upon three young Indian boys in peril. Having essentially given up on the notion of spirituality and finding themselves, they inadvertently stumble upon a shot at redemption.
The script, with writing contributions from Roman Coppola and Schwartzman, is rife with candor, pathos and caustic comedy (“We’ll stop feeling sorry for ourselves. It’s not very attractive,” says their mother). Robert Yeoman’s crisp photography is nearly flawless, capturing both the stunning Indian landscapes and Darjeeling “Savoury Snacks” with rich precision.
The film is an entertaining depiction of dysfunction and the struggles to reach out and mend the often-ailing bonds of family, but Anderson’s famous ability to convey sentimentality and emotion in a melancholy and comedically offbeat way comes up short. The plot feels incomplete, lacking the emotional depth that made “The Royal Tenenbaums” Anderson’s masterpiece. Perhaps it’s the writing partnership with Wilson (who co-wrote “Bottle Rocket,” “Rushmore” and “The Royal Tenenbaums”) that brings out the best in Anderson.
“The Darjeeling Limited” is sure to please Anderson’s cult fanbase, if only because the movie will give it a fix. As a member of the loyal group, I know the film’s shortcomings won’t really matter to most Anderson devotees, but the regular filmgoer in me recognizes a smart, sad, funny movie that doesn’t quite bring it together.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
“The Darjeeling Limited”
At the Michigan Theater