Wes Anderson was one of the Wunderkinds that come along ever few years in the independent film scene. His films like Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, and The Royale Tenenbaums were wonderful breaths of fresh air. Anderson had a refreshing style that was both technically impressive and also light-hearted and fun. His films utilized dry humor perfectly, getting laughs without demanding them from every scene. Meanwhile his excellent, new wave inspired visuals took the viewer along for some wonderful rides. Anderson was delivering a unique mix of styles that was so unique from everything else his audiences were expecting. However, Anderson’s ride hit a bump in late 2004 when his forth film The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou received mixed to negative reviews. It seemed Anderson had suddenly jumped the shark, as it were. I however remain a defender of The Life Aquatic, it was not as good as his previous three works, but it was an enjoyable film that has grown on me the more I’ve seen it. Anderson is back in 2007 with his new film The Darjeeling Limited.
The film is about a trip three brothers take through India. Francis (Owen Wilson) is the eldest brother who had recently been in an accident leaving him with massive bandageing on his face. Peter (Adrian Brody), is married and his wife is pregnant back home, although he isn’t overly exited about the prospect of having a child. Jack (Jason Schwarzmen) has recently broken up with an unnamed girlfriend. These brothers have recently lost their father and are trying to take a spiritual journey in this foreign land, complete with laminated itineraries. Their ultimate destination is to meet up with their mother who has become a nun working at an orphanage.
I’ve always been a fan of Wes Anderson’s style, I even found The Life Aquatic quite enjoyable, especially after multiple viewings. Anderson’s visual styling is as strong as ever here; he uses a yellow color scheme that fits India perfectly. Anderson continues with his active moving camera and energetic editing.
The acting featured here is also very solid. Jason Schwarzmen delivers another unique and quirky performance as Jack, it’s consistently fun to watch his mannerisms throughout the movie. Owen Wilson is in his element, this isn’t much of a stretch for him, but he does his job well enough. Adrian Brody is new to the Wes Anderson troupe, and is a welcome addition to the cast.
As good as the visuals and acting is here, as a story the film has major problems. The characters here are not likable or interesting. These three brothers are not well established in the beginning of the movie. Many say they dislike exposition in movies, but in reality what they dislike is poorly done exposition, here we don’t even get that. There is a short film on the internet called Hotel Chevlier that acts as a prequel. I missed this short before seeing the movie and hoped that the needed exposition for the movie would be in it, but it isn’t, it gives some insights into one of the characters but The Darjeeling Limited remained poorly introduced. The development does not get better from their. I did not care about these shallow characters as I watched the film.
The film’s second major flaw is that it simply isn’t funny. Anderson obviously tends more toward dry quirky humor, but here he seems to avoid humor altogether. There were definitely a handful of chuckle inducing scenes here, especially a moment involving a purchase made by the Adrian Brody character, but these moments are few and far between. There were a lot more laughs in Anderson’s previous films, and his quirky style really just can’t sustain a purely dramatic story. Serious things happen here that really just fall flat because this style just isn’t meant to convey any sort of reality.
The film runs a lean 91 minutes, many would find this faster pace worthwhile, but I felt it would have benefited from more time to develop the characters and to simply allow more funny things to happen. Just when the movie seems to be going somewhere it ends.
Anderson does however continue to prove the supremacy of his classic rock knowledge. Anderson has consistently put together great soundtracks for his movies, here he brings to the table a handful of songs by The Kinks, and a great Rolling Stones track. The rest of the soundtrack consists of pre-existing scoring from Indian films, specifically the works of Satyajit Ray. These songs are perfectly integrated with the onscreen visuals and help the movie a lot.
Unfortunately, this killer soundtrack was not enough to save this film. I don’t want to come off as feeling too negatively about the movie, there are definitely a lot of good moments here, most of the individual scenes are quite good, they just never gel together to form a quality whole. It’s hard to actively dislike the film, it is after all fairly charming, but it does not live up to Anderson’s previous works. Then again that’s what I initially said about The Royal Tenenbaums, which after repeated viewings became my favorite Anderson movie to date. Maybe a similar 180 will occur after I give his new film a second chance, but until then I will have to remain underwhelmed by The Darjeeling Limited.
** out of four