Darjeeling Limited, The


Wes Anderson Derails Another Film

Main Cast:   Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, Jason Schwartzman
Also Notable: Bill Murray, Natalie Portman, Anjelica Huston
Director: Wes Anderson

I understand the phenomenon of the cult of personality.  Some directors consistently capture the mindset, emotional tenor or fascination of a segment of movie-goers.   But as much as I understand it, I don’t always understand the directions it takes.

Certainly Scorcese, Hitchcock, Wilder and others built a vast reputation over relatively long periods of time pleasing both avid fans and casual viewers alike.  Others remain a mystery.  I am currently puzzled over the phenomenon of Wes Anderson.  I just don’t get it.  Or maybe there isn’t really anything there to get.  Watching The Darjeeling Limited only cemented my confusion and affirmed my conclusion that there just isn’t much there, there.

The Darjeeling Limited tells the tale of three brothers crossing India aboard the titular train.  The brothers have been estranged since their father’s death, and the eldest has instigated this adventure to bring them together and take them all on a “spiritual journey”.  Of course he has an ulterior motive, but the vast majority of the film is this trip through a foreign land with three men that I think we’re supposed, on some level, to like.  Unfortunately, they aren’t the least bit likeable – not even in a quirky, movie-person (as opposed to a real person) type of way.  And worse yet, they’re… boring.

Owen Wilson headlines as Francis, the eldest brother and instigator of this dirge of a journey.  He is covered in bandages from a recent accident and reveals his control freak personality early when he orders his brothers’ meals.  Jason Schwartzman is Jack, the youngest, who is mainly just horny.  Adrien Brody (remarkably out of place with his actual talent) is middle brother Peter,  the brother most outwardly grieving his father.

The siblings banter about their past and their current lives and their journey and all variety of dull minutia for a full hour and a half.  There are a handful of very funny scenes – almost entirely created by the actors being better than the material.  There are also a handful of rather touching scenes – not one of which actually involves the “journey” or the banter or for the most part the script.  Audiences are stuck with the longest hour and a half I’ve suffered through in a long, long time.  I swear I looked at the clock no less than half a dozen times, each time marveling that we were not yet to the hour mark.

So what derails this train?  When you get right down to it the script sucks.  The dialogue is awful – filled with unnatural, forced conversations that sound stilted and fake.   We get loads of little one liners and some sight gags along with some pseudo-philosophical bull that I think is supposed to be funny (if not, these moments are pathetic).  Shallow characters and situations fail to pull us into their world.  We never really learn much about the brothers or their lives before or after their estrangement.  This film all about stupid, insipid and poorly written moments.

The Darjeeling Limited leaves an unmistakable aftertaste of arrogance.  The entire film is an endless string of set-ups for Wes Anderson to show us  how clever he is.

Oh!  Look at how he used that slow motion!

Wait, did you see that Bill Murray cameo?

Hold up – did those wacky brothers just buy everything they could carry while on a spiritual quest?

That crazy Wes Anderson, he’s full of poignant, topical wit!  Please, I think I might throw up.  The whole production reeks of self indulgence and increasing levels of attention-seeking dialogue, set pieces and visual tricks.  Every bit of that ego-driven garbage detracts from the characters, distracts from their supposed mission and tears apart any cohesion the film might have built in the few spare minutes when Anderson isn’t showing off.

Adrien Brody is the single praiseworthy cast member.  His character may be the most poorly written of the three – the least developed, the most useless.  Yet I did feel for this man, trapped in his grief and expressing it by living with his father’s belongings.  Brody consistently broadcasts a wide and appropriate range of emotions through his face, his posture and his vocal intonation.  At one point his sorrow and guilt really do pull the heartstrings.  He sticks out like a diamond in a dung heap.

I didn’t hate either Rushmore or The Royal Tennenbaums.  I thought they were okay.  There was a time when I wasn’t confident enough to stand up in an Anderson adoring crowd and proclaim them mediocre, but those days are long past.  The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou was absolutely abysmal and The Darjeeling Limited continues the downward spiral.

Cameo appearances by Bill Murray and Natalie Portman don’t help, nor does the DVD inclusion of some idiocy called “The Hotel Chevalier” which is supposed to fill us in on the Jason Schwartzman character in the time period directly preceding the film.  That is as big a failure as the film itself and even less coherent, relevant or involving.  In the end, I don’t like these paper thin characters, I don’t like this storyline and I really don’t like having Wes Anderson shove his own ridiculously high opinion of himself in my face for 90 tedious minutes.

Unless you’re part of the Cult of Wes, avoid this mess.

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