Owen Wilson as Francis
Adrien Brody as Peter
Jason Schwartzman as Jack
Amara Karan as Rita
Camilla Rutherford as Alice
Irfan Khan as The Father
Bill Murray as The Businessman
Anjelica Huston as Patricia
Trudy Matthys as German Lady on the train
Directed by Wes Anderson
Wes Anderson brings his eclectic and esoteric sense of humor to India with a movie that's somewhat funny, but in strange and subtle ways, even by Anderson's standards.
Francis, Peter and Jack Whitman (Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody and Jason Schwartzman) are three brothers who haven't seen each other in a year, since the death of their father. They decided to reunite for a spiritual journey across India, but their constant squabbling gets them thrown off the train on which they're riding.
There are people who love Wes Anderson and those who don't understand his appeal, but however much of an acquired taste some might consider him, he's still been able to find an audience for his uniquely odd and dry sense of humor. Much of the popularity of his previous four movies can be attributed to the cast of actors he's used and "The Darjeeling Limited" offers many callbacks, making it less of a departure than a compilation of Anderson's normal quirks set in a new environment. Co-written with Roman Coppola ("CQ") and actor Jason Schwartzman, who made his film debut ten years ago in Anderson's second movie "Rushmore," the story uses India in a similar way as the "The Life Aquatic" used an underwater world populated by animated creatures, but it's grounded more firmly in reality, something which does better justice to what is stronger original material.
While it opens with Anderson mainstay Bill Murray running to the departing train that makes up the film's title, it's only a tease for when he's overtaken by Peter Whitman (Adrien Brody), who just makes it on board to join his two brothers Francis (Owen Wilson) and Jack (Jason Schwartzman) in a cramped train car for their trip across India. The three brothers couldn't be any more different, making you wonder if they have the same parents, enhanced by Francis's head being completely covered with bandages from a horrendous car wreck and Jack is a prolific writer obsessed with the train's steward Rita. Over the course of their trip, a lot of secrets are slowly revealed including the real reason for making the trip, but ultimately, their squabbling and use of prescription drugs, combined with the cramped quarters, leads to a full-on fight that gets them thrown off the train.
While I'd love to say that "Darjeeling Limited" is Anderson's strongest, most exciting, original and innovative movie since "Rushmore," sadly it's not. The writing and rapport between characters is very much in the same vein as "Bottle Rocket" or "The Royal Tenenbaums," which means you will immediately know whether not this is your cup of darjeeling tea or not. On the other hand, India proves to be a fertile location for Anderson's imaginative fish-out-of-water humor with plenty of fodder for his visual sensibilities and penchant for subtle sight gags.
Despite the return of many of Anderson's regular ensemble of actors—Brody being the most noticeable newbie playing what might normally have been Luke Wilson's role—there are no standout performances that leave any sort of lasting impression. Jason Schwartzman continues to be a dynamic comic talent even when teamed with Wilson, the character of Jack being almost an older and wiser version of the character he played in "Rushmore" albeit having significant more luck with the ladies. Jarring head bandages and facial wounds aside, Owen Wilson essentially does the same thing he's done in Anderson's previous movies going back to "Bottle Rocket" and the fact that the actor has found mainstream success doing essentially the same thing in other movies is a true testament to the movie persona that Anderson helped create. Anjelica Huston's appearance as the boys' estranged mother is only the second biggest tease in the movie to the earlier appearances by Murray, but there's also an appearance by India's man of the moment, Ifan Khan, as the father of a boy killed in a tragic accident the brothers witness that helps bring them together after their big fight.
Generally, the film is uneven though and once the brothers get off the train, the film hits a bit of a downturn and it tends to drag, as they visit a small village and attend a funeral, allowing for a flashback to the incident from their father's funeral that initially broke up the family, something that's referred to earlier in one of Jack's short stories. In that sense, it's very much like Anderson's previous movies, offering a few snickers and laughs at first, but ultimately being more about the inner feelings of clearly flawed people.
Wes Anderson has also made a short Francocentric film called "Hotel Chevalier" featuring Jason Schwartzman's character having a tryst with an ex-girlfriend, played by Natalie Portman, and it's an integral part to the story told in "Darjeeling." Apparently, this short will be appearing online soon, most likely on Apple.com or at the iTunes store, and it's absolutely mandatory viewing before seeing Anderson's latest, since the scene is referred to later in the movie, and it allows us to know a lot more about Jack's character the first time we meet him.
The Bottom Line:
If you're already a fan of Anderson's sense of humor and eye for style than you'll probably enjoy his latest road comedy to India, although anyone expecting him to break out with something that will forever change the face of cinema will more than likely be disappointed that it's "just another Wes Anderson movie"—and a vanity project at that—rather than being something truly special.
The Darjeeling Limited
will have its North American premiere at the New York Film Festival
on Friday, September 28 before opening in New York on September 29. It will then open in L.A. and other cities on October 5.