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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 28%
Average: 16%
Pretty Bad: 4%
Total Crap: 2%

6 reviews, 14 user ratings

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Darjeeling Limited, The
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by Erik Childress

"Saying Anderson Is Back On Track Is Not The Most Obvious Metaphor Here"
4 stars

For reasons I wasn’t entirely in tune with, I seemed to be off the Wes Anderson bandwagon. I mean I’d still recommend Bottle Rocket and The Royal Tenenbaums to strangers, but something about his last film (The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou) revealed more about his outreach to the audience than I think I was prepared to admit. Overly quirked for quirk’s sake and the suggestion that all the fineprint he was leaving out of the film was for his own amusement to measure his brain against ours. This is never more obvious with the sanctimoniously overrated Rushmore, which I once viewed as a disappointment coming off his debut but after subsequent DVD and cable experiences to reacquaint my own evolving brainscape I now rather loathe as a smug and hateful experience. But Anderson did bounce back with those Tenenbaums, crafting a moving portrait of redemption while keeping his characters’ reserved eccentricities in check; something that Life Aquatic could never contain. It pleases me to see that Anderson was able to come back again with a similar exotic adventure that may not deliver on the emotional context of Tenenbaums but is more than funny enough to forgive it’s heavy-handed dramatic metaphors.

The Darjeeling of the title refers to the passenger train where the brothers Whitman will meet for the first time since their father’s funeral. Jack (Jason Schwartzman) has been living abroad, writing the occasional short story that he swears are based on fictional characters. Peter (Adrien Brody) has reluctance about the reunion but it comes second to taking some time away from his pregnant wife back home. Francis (Owen Wilson), equipped with a peculiar head bandage after a motorcycle accident, has organized the “spiritual journey” with Griswold-ian precision, even bringing along an assistant with a laminator to deliver their itinerary each morning.

Nearly catatonic are the brothers on various health remedies they share, except for Francis who has no problem speaking for the others and has a paranoid streak of being abandoned. Jack is a hopeless romantic whose references to his ex-girlfriend don’t exactly inspire optimism. His attraction to a waitress on the train (Amara Karan) is frought with the very no-no’s the brothers are warned about in being respectful passengers. Peter casually flaunts the remnants of his father’s possessions, a trait Francis is all too quick to identify, while Peter drops that dad’s dying words implied he was the favorite.

Anderson is at his best when developing the interaction between his characters. Non-sequiturs stringing together more personally infuriating verbage that one or more never recognize even after someone calls them out on it lead to many of the funniest moments. Peter walks a tightrope between wanting to lash out in anger or breakdown in tears and watching Brody’s middle child trying to maintain in the face of the two extremes of his brothers is one of the film’s silent pleasures. By contrast, Schwartzman is sympathetic with a neediness streak that turns out to have more maternal implications and Wilson’s Francis does his best to assume the role as the father figure of the family, however dominant, explaining his increased feeling of worthlessness as Peter reveals piece after piece of their father’s memory.

As long as Anderson allows us to discover these connections on our own – such as the intimations of the opening scene cameo – Darjeeling is well on its way to that Tenenbaum refinement. A flashback to the day of the funeral where the brothers are sidetracked to picking up their dad’s car may be the best scene Anderson has ever directed; frenetic but simple in its anxiety and confusion in what each of them are supposed to be doing next. Anderson though really shoves in the screws though when going for obvious dramatics and hits the emblematic notes so hard that it flies right past the realm of metaphor and stands out like the top line of an eyechart through a telescope. Most films about chucking emotional baggage wouldn’t end with suitcases being left behind in another country.

Much like Francis, it’s Anderson’s insistence that he knows what everyone else in the room is thinking and therefore knows more than them that keeps his quirky overtones at a distance from even stringent admirers. Maybe that’s why I remember The Life Aquatic as a more exacting experience than it actually was. It’s not that bad of a film. Darjeeling is much better though; focused as as comedy of manners and gradually drifting into deeper dysfunction. If it wasn’t SO focused on hammering home the connection between the drama and the comedy, we would be able to focus more on the emotional growth the brothers develop. How much stock Anderson puts into the spiritual underpinnings and rituals that Wilson insists upon is unclear. Mocking their religiosity or preaching it as something to practice isn’t going to win Anderson any new fans, but those who already are will find a lot to like, if not love, about his latest journey.

(NOTE: What you won’t see in the theaters, but online and presumably on the DVD, is the 13-minute Anderson short, Hotel Chevalier, which is identified as “Part 1” of the Darjeeling Limited in its end credits. It focuses on the Schwartzman character and his time in Europe where his ex-girlfriend (Natalie Portman) has tracked him down. The short works independently from the film as a sadly amusing tale of obsession and a friendship that failed as love. It also provides a much-needed expansion of Schwartzman’s character, who in the film is easily the least developed of the three. As it was the studio’s and director’s choice to show critics the short before the film, there will likely be a gap in the experience for those who see the feature first, particularly in a final short story read by Jack and why Portman shows up in a five-second cameo as one of Darjeeling’s curtain call of characters. My advice would be to seek out the short before you see the film.)

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originally posted: 09/29/07 14:00:00
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User Comments

2/07/14 jnBcaZAmZfcsTLHmQQ PyUMKgonXnFdSCzo 2 stars
10/28/10 Ryan J. Marshall This is a film which I find to be very moving; a spiritual train-ride of emotions. 5 stars
5/25/10 MP Bartley Surprisingly affecting for an Anderson film with three great central performances. 4 stars
6/13/09 sharon Brilliant storytelling, beautiful images 5 stars
3/29/09 chris. watched it 3 times the night i rented it. beloved. 5 stars
6/23/08 chris. 2nd W.A. fave after rushmore 5 stars
3/13/08 Jefenator Undeniably dry and quirky. Can't always back up the tricks. 4 stars
11/10/07 pin Max Fischer with a moustache. Anderson made a beautiful film, again. 5 stars
10/29/07 Josh Absolutely phenomenal. I wish it didn't end. 5 stars
10/29/07 Wizard Music and exotic setting trump the story 3 stars
10/28/07 Private If you like other Wes Anderson films, you'll like this. Left me indifferent. 3 stars
10/04/07 DADADOF This movie is amazing. 5 stars
10/01/07 Wendell O. Maness I don't like spiritual BS, there is no god and this movie seems to be a spiritual quest typ 2 stars
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  29-Sep-2007 (R)
  DVD: 12-Oct-2010



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