THE DARJEELING LIMITED—-India is, at the very least, a challenge. So much on view, so exotic, so nonsensical. Extravagance and beauty, cowshit and misery, endless sublime patience, nonstop shrill argument. A claustrophobic Giant whose feast swallows you up: you don’t take it, it takes you. For some this becomes a mystical immersion in self-revelation. For many more (and most of the former) it becomes a sanity and survival contest.
With that conveniently ping-ponging stage setting, auteurist darling (=genius/poseur) Wes Anderson directs another of his quirked-up observations of family dynamics, recognizable as such within a just a few minutes of the 91 that make up his 2007 offering. Three disconnected brothers embark on a search for—among other things—their mom, and swerve through parts of Rajasthan en route.
Anderson charms his followers. His output of items like Rushmore (many tingle at its mention, I stifle yawns), The Royal Tennenbaums (the most likeable) and The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (that gulp you hear is the sound of something sinking) is loaded with ‘characters’. They’re so chocked with forced whimsy and self-aware artifice that they loop past recognition into stylization for its own sake. Fair enough, style is fun, but after twenty minutes or thirty minutes you kind of wish he had a real attachment going, since you’ll spend another hour or more with these ‘lovable’ head-cases.
Anderson has a great visual sense, and this movie has lots of pretty color going for it in the detailed production design. Of the cast, Adrien Brody comes off best, simply because he’s just so much better an actor than co-stars Jason Schwartzmann and Owen Wilson.
‘Limited’ is right, as the story chugs in fits and starts, then practically stalls halfway. When you care more about their luggage than the people who carry it, perhaps some clarification from the conductor might be in order. For a movie set and shot in India, and angling at some level of spiritual-renewal, the script manages to make only passing use of Indians: with one exception ( enticing Amara Karan) they’re just props for Anderson to play out his endless quirks with. Angelica Huston has a quick, ineffective cameo, and a prologue scene, with a sour Natalie Portman, is vapid, to be generous.
He was attempting something larger than playing with a train-set, I suppose, and was helped writing the script by Schwartzmann and his cousin Roman Coppola.
With Wallace Wolodarsky, Waris Alhuwalia, Bill Murray, Barbet Schroeder. The $17,500,000 production made back $35,000,000 and drew positive reviews from those enamored of Anderson’s schtick, groans from those fed up. My friend base is split between those camps. If you dig his stuff, you’ll like this. I think he just pulls wool.