Writer-director Wes Anderson's tale of three pampered, estranged brothers on a quirky journey of spiritual discovery relocates his usual preoccupations to the shabbily ornate confines of a trans-India train.
Born and raised in New York City, the Whitman brothers are neurotic, navel-gazing baby-men scarred by a materially comfortable but emotionally barren upbringing. They haven't spoken since their father's funeral a year earlier, but Francis (Owen Wilson) had an epiphany about family ties after a near-fatal motorcycle accident and lures Peter (Adrien Brody) and Jack (Jason Schwartzman, who cowrote the screenplay) to India for a sibling-rebonding trip aboard the Darjeeling Limited, complete with custom-made healing rituals and tightly scheduled stopovers at picturesque temples, bazaars and natural wonders. All three come prepared to self-medicate, each dragging pieces of a custom-made set of Louis Vuitton luggage that belonged to their father. The endless bickering starts before the train leaves the station and gets them thrown off shortly after Francis reveals his hidden agenda: a surprise visit to their wayward mother (Anjelica Huston), who abandoned them to enter a convent perched in the picturesque Himalayas.
The trouble with this precious fable isn't that the Whitmans are self-absorbed ninnies: It's that they aren't characters at all. They're precious conceits, carefully bundled assemblages of tics and quirks and mannerisms that seem sophisticated until you ask what they add up to. Why is Jack always barefoot? Who knows, but it looks kind of weird and cool. They have relationships so they can have eccentric relationship problems, and they don't have jobs because having to work would get in the way of aimless wandering and spiritual journeys — that's why they have to be rich. And for a filmmaker whose reputation rests on his cleverness, Anderson has a ham-fisted way with a metaphor: The train is moving forward, but the brothers are held back by the dead weight of the past. And that oh-so-twee luggage, patterned with fanciful palm trees and wild animals, makes you wonder what kind of man would commission luggage that looks as though it was designed for a child, but Anderson's interest in the Whitmans' father ends with the fact that he was run down by a taxi on 72nd Street. They're cast out of the train, whose lushly patterned walls suggest a garden, because Peter brings a snake on board. Amid all this self-conscious cleverness, the one sequence built around primal emotions — suffice it to say that it involves a funeral — feels hideously out of place, its gravity diminished by the self-consciously kooky antics that surround it.
THE DARJEELING LIMITED was shown with the 13-minute short, Hotel Chevalier, which fills in the back story of Jack and his ex (Natalie Portman), scored to repeated playings of Peter Sarstedt's sublimely irritating 1969 song "Where Do You Go To (My Lovely)."
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