Following a minor cult-movie debut with 1996's "Bottle Rocket," writer-director Wes Anderson made his breakthrough in the form of 1998's "Rushmore
," one of the truest, smartest and most heartfelt teen comedies of that decade. Quirky yet delightfully so, its offbeat qualities never getting in the way of the characters' emotional realities, "Rushmore
" signified the introduction of a fresh and auspicious new filmmaking talent. Since then, Anderson has sadly done everything in his power to tarnish his reputation. A one-trick pony with a penchant for repeating himself, his follow-up efforts, 2001's "The Royal Tenenbaums
" and 2004's "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
," went overboard on the heightened stylistic flourishes to the point where humanity was ripped out from them and all that was left were inferior empty shells. They were no longer funny or touching or cutealthough they could be accused of being too cute by a halfonly interminable, amateurish slogs through annoying pretentiousness.
Wes Anderson finally breaks the downward spiral with "The Darjeeling Limited," though, honestly, there wasn't much further down he could go after "The Life Aquatic
." An eccentric slice-of-life about sibling relationships, his latest effort is easily the best feature he has made since "Rushmore
." The catch is that it still leaves a lot to be desired. As a comedy, there are less than five laugh-out-loud moments, but as a drama, which it startlingly transforms into in the last half-hour, it isn't without some introspective merit. Judged on a whole, however, the picture is nothing if not narratively aimless, with Anderson and co-screenwriters Roman Coppola and Jason Schwartzman seemingly inventing ideas for scenes on the day of shooting and hoping for the best in the end.
Really, there is precious little story to be told. Three grown American brothersFrancis (Owen Wilson), still bandaged up and recuperating from an intentional bike accident; Peter (Adrien Brody), having a tough time accepting that he is about to become a father in six weeks; and Jack (Jason Schwartzman), a writer who has recently broken up with his girlfriendreunite on the title train that will take them on a trek through India. As the three of them question whether or not they would still be friends even if they weren't brothers, they move closer to Francis' pre-planned destination: a convent in the Himalayan foothills, where their mother, Patricia (Anjelica Huston), has run off to. It seems that when their father passed away a year ago, Patricia was a no-show at the funerala fact that has left them perplexed and in need of answers.
"The Darjeeling Limited" is a pleasant trifle, and that's it. The core relationship between the brothers and their culminating journey together is barely half-formed, with next to nothing being divulged about any of the characters outside of what was mentioned in the preceding paragraph. When it is established that Francis tried to take his own life, the line is used as a throwaway. What led Francis to want to commit suicide? What pain is he hiding (he outwardly appears happy-go-lucky)? Why isn't there a single conversation where Peter and Jack question him about this? Meanwhile, Francis describes their trip as a "spiritual quest;" when the train temporarily gets lost and their itenerary-maker Brendan (Wallace Wolodarsky) says, "We haven't located us yet," Francis asks, "Is that symbolic?" Here is a man searching for answers, for a sign that there is a higher power and hope in the world, but the film forgets this almost as soon as it is brought up. For the most part, the dialogue exchanges between Francis, Peter and Jack are superfluous and fail to shed light on who these people are.
The performances from Owen Wilson (2006's "You, Me and Dupree
"), Adrien Brody (2006's "Hollywoodland
") and Jason Schwartzman (2006's "Marie Antoinette
") are good as separate entities, but a stretch as brothers. Each one is game and dryly amusing, but they lack the believable chemistry necessary for their reconnected bond to have an effect on the viewer. This mostly can be attributed to a screenplay that never digs beneath the surface, and a plot that matches the characters in the thin department. In many ways, it is the two main females in the cast who are the standouts. Newcomer Amara Karan is lovely and soulful as Rita, a train attendant who catches Jack's eyetheir scenes together are some of the best in the movieand Anjelica Huston (2006's "Material Girls
") lends poignancy and comedic snap to the part of their mother, the newly-named Sister Patricia.
Individual moments shine in "The Darjeeling Limited"a slow-motion shot of a funeral procession scored to The Kinks' "Strangers;" the good-bye between Jack and Rita; Francis' unraveling of his head bandages to reveal injuries not yet healed; the climactic confrontation between the brothers and their mom in the Himalayasbut they do not make a satisfying whole. The film, reluctant to address the characters' underlying conflicts on a deep enough level, ultimately falls into the trap of Wes Anderson's recent oeuvre. A few idiosyncrasies can be colorful, but too many can ruin the overall picture. There is a smugness that now tags along with Anderson's noticeable aesthetic stylea winking eye toward the audience that seldom goes awayand it puts a damper on taking his stories and characters seriously. "The Darjeeling Limited" is too often an offender of this irksome disingenuousness.