Wes Anderson’s quirky and understated comedy has given him a reputation of being a filmmaker not suitable to all. He does not draw attention to his humour, rather he puts it on-screen for audiences to take on board or wash over them. This is why many find it hard to digest his offerings despite having varied and interesting characters driven by often bizarre desires. In The Darjeeling Limited he brings together three brothers in India for a spiritually-awakening train ride to their mother. It’s a typical Anderson journey with the terrific trio of Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody and Jason Schwartzman making it a trip to remember.
Before getting into the story proper, Anderson offers a short film featuring Schwartzman and Natalie Portman as long-parted lovers who meet at a hotel for what could be the last time they see each other. It’s a prelude to fill in some background on writer Jack (Schwartzman), and explains his obsession with his ex whose answer machine he eavesdrops on throughout the main movie where he meets up with brothers Francis (Wilson) and Peter (Brody) in a first class train cabin in India. Eldest Francis was recently involved in a motorcycle accident resulting in a heavily bandaged face and limp while Peter is struggling to come to terms with his wife’s pregnancy. Together for the first time since their father’s funeral, Francis wants them to bond as they follow an itinerary at train stops on their way to being reunited with their mother (Anjelica Huston), now a nun in a Himalayan convent. However, after the awkward pleasantries and good intentions, the old family squabbling begins. Francis wants to take control over everything, Peter undermines this authority and annoys Francis by having taken some of their father’s belongings without asking and Jack tries to ignore it all by diverting his attention to stewardess Rita (Amara Karan).
Continues his impressive run of intelligent comedies.
Although Anderson takes the brothers off the train on various occasions, The Darjeeling Limited works best when they are crammed into their compartment and get under each other’s skin. They really do act like siblings and as family secrets are revealed, the tension plays on their individual quirks. However, when Peter’s snake bought at an Indian market escapes, days spent taking a combination of over-the-counter pain killers and Indian cough syrup brings on a fight ending in the use of pepper spray and their ejection from the train. They are forced to ponder on their father’s funeral and resolve to make sure they visit the mother who was absent for the service. Anderson loses his tight focus here to usher in the sentimentality needed to bring a conclusion, but he manages to pull it all together with an inventive final sequence in which all the characters — major and minor such as a Bill Murray cameo — are shown in personalised spaces on a hypothetical train.
The subtleties of Anderson’s work are ever present. Like his other films, there will be those who can sit through The Darjeeling Limited without even raising a smile, then there are those who are so perfectly on his wavelength the smile never ceases and often breaks into a laugh. He uses an abundance of recurring visual motifs and behaviours that have to be noticed and registered to get the most from the experience. There isn’t a major pay off at the end, but that isn’t what is expected of Anderson. He makes tales of human interplay to draw attention to how our behaviour can be hilarious in even the most serious situation. The Darjeeling Limited can feel a little wayward at times, but continues his impressive run of intelligent comedies.