The Darjeeling Limited (2007)

reviewed by
David N. Butterworth

A film review by David N. Butterworth
Copyright 2007 David N. Butterworth
**1/2 (out of ****)

At once arch, awkward, and amusing, "The Darjeeling Limited," named after an Indian sleeper (train), is the latest screwball farce from director Wes Anderson.

Anderson is the man behind the equally arch and oddly titled "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou" (2004) as well as 2001's "The Royal Tenenbaums" but perhaps you might recognize the oddball auteur from his "My Life, My American Express" commercials that preceded the main feature for many a month, the one in which Francois first buys it in a cheesy fake car crash, a pair of script wranglers test out some revised dialogue, a Geisha shows up, and the director gamely slaps the entire production--and no doubt those tasty french fries--onto his trusty AMEX card.

That 2-minute advertisement summed up Anderson's style and sense of humor extremely succinctly. "The Darjeeling Limited" is, alas, not quite as successful because it stretches out a similar approach over some 91 minutes, extending a mildly amusing joke way beyond its punch line. For there is no real punch line in "'Darjeeling'"; the film can end at pretty much any time. And it does.

Anderson's fifth feature is more or less a series of vignettes than a traditional narrative... not that anyone ever accused Anderson of following tradition. Its storyline features three brothers (played by Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, and Jason Schwartzman) on a "spiritual quest" across India by train (mostly) a year after the death of their father, the last time Francis, Peter, and Jack were together. And it features all the well-honed trademarks of the Anderson oeuvre: Wilson (Anderson can't seem to--or doesn't want to--make a movie without him), in-frame symmetry (not to mention stupidity), wild pans, bright color schemes, slow motion effects, bogus yet sometimes brilliant dialogue, and a deliberately constructed soundtrack of pop songs (this time around Peter Sartstedt's "Where Do You Go To (My Lovely)," The Kinks' "This Time Tomorrow," and The Rolling Stones' "Play With Fire" feature fondly).

Francis W. (Wilson) is the eldest of the brood, a ridiculously take-charge individual. Believing what's best for his fellow siblings he orders them their food, assigns their sleeping arrangements, and provides them with a daily laminated itinerary that's shoved under their berth door each morning by his bald assistant, Brendan). Peter (Brody) seems to have everything of Dad's in his possession: his prescription glasses, his safety razor... perhaps because he's about to become a father himself. And Little Jack (Schwartzman), a writer of short stories, tries to forget his ex-girlfriend by making the moves on Rita, the passenger train's exotic sweet lime wallah. All three men regularly swap and down painkillers and cough elixirs to keep their spirits up. There's a flashback involving a red Porsche, and Barbet Schroeder as a Luftwaffe Motors mechanic.

There's also a tragedy in the film that brings the brothers closer together. Anderson handles the sequence and subsequent scenes sensitively and, as a result, its poignancy is assured: "I couldn't save mine," laments Peter shortly after the unfortunate incident.

India looks great, its people as well as its topography, but by the time the boys have jettisoned their baggage the only ones left cheering will be diehard Anderson fans. Because, for all its quixotic quirkiness, "The Darjeeling Limited" is little more than artifice for the art house set.

David N. Butterworth

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