Jaq's Review: The Darjeeling Limited - The Short Road to Nowhere
by Jaq Greenspon
October 28, 2007
A few weeks ago, before I saw The Darjeeling Limited, a friend of mine was bemoaning the fact that a film like Resident Evil: Extinction was getting a wide release and a huge promotion while writer-directors like Wes Anderson have to struggle with getting a film made and released. When I saw Anderson's new film, I think I was beginning to understand why.
Wes Anderson is quite talented. When he first appeared on the scene with Bottle Rocket, he was hailed as the new wunderkind of independent cinema. He held a tight reign on that mantle with the release of Rushmore and then, with The Royal Tenenbaums, cracks started to show. By the time The Life Aquatic came out, only the true believers were still voicing loud support. For the rest of the world, however, the film didn't work. It became a matter of the fans complaining that if one didn't like it, one simply didn't get it. The same, I fear, is true of this latest feature.
It feels like Anderson isn't growing. He took a risk with Life Aquatic and when it didn't pan out, he fell back into his comfort zone, creating ticks searching for characters and eschewing substance for style. With Darjeeling Limited, he gives us three brothers trying to get back to the way they used to be, after not having spoken to each other for a year, since their father's funeral. Unfortunately we never really understand anything about these characters beyond a cursory gloss of explanation. These are characters defined by their foibles with no history beyond what we're told. We cannot imagine them existing in the real world. The script, by Anderson, co-star Jason Schwartzman and Roman Coppola, feels like the navel-gazing product of a screenwriting MFA program.
The film takes place almost entirely in India, often onboard a train called The Darjeeling Limited. When the trio of brothers is ejected from the train (for doing things which, again, seem out of character but dictated by the necessity of the script) it seems like we may, finally, get a chance to have some revelation. However, none is forth-coming. In fact, you have to wonder why the film is even set in India. Very little use is made of the country-side and, honestly, the film could have been anywhere since the basics of the plot have nothing to do with its surroundings. Which isn't to say it's not an attractive film, it is, but there's no substance within the imagery. It seems like Anderson is still a struggling seventeen year-old, angrily filming his defiance and shouting to the heavens that he "doesn't have to explain his art to us."
This is all a shame because the performances are actually quite wonderful. Jason Schwartzman and Adrien Brody seem to really be enjoying inhabiting the skins of these characters, trying to invest in them much more than is on the page. Of the three leads, only Owen Wilson seems to be delivering his standard "Owen Wilson" performance. In minor roles, Amara Karan as a Rita, a serving girl on the train and Wallace Wolodarsky as Wilson's long-suffering assistant Brendan are both outstanding. A short film of their adventures once the brothers leave the train would be a welcome addition. But in the end, the film just feels longer than its 91 minutes and we know as little about the characters at the end as we did at the beginning.
There is a short now running with the film, a prequel entitled "Hotel Chevalier". This was not screened when I saw the film but I understand it adds some interesting information to the life of Schwartzman's character.
Reader Feedback - 5 Comments
I actually quite like this film. I thought the characters were funny, and very sad. I also liked their mother. And I thought India played a big role in their 'spiritual journey' during the film. One of my favorite parts was the flashback to the three brothers trying to get their dad's car before his funeral. 8/10
andrew on Oct 28, 2007
I have yet to watch the film, but will be doing so very shortly. It is true with any Wes Anderson film, the only way you are going to like it, is if you actually get it. Life Aquatic is one of my favorite films. It literally makes me start crying with laughter. I have showed it too a couple of my friends and half of them were on the floor rolling, and the other half walked out. I feel it will be the same for this film.
Ryan on Oct 28, 2007
you nailed it with this review.
keith on Oct 29, 2007
I'm not a fan either, but I do like his initial projects including Rushmore. It seems he never did grow, as you have noted. Many fans of his would argue about his techniques being so and so....but after all has been said and done, you have to ask, is that all? I was certainly disappointed after reading all the 'accolades' from some of the film review sites who have been given the chance to watch it before the 'public'.
Jed on Nov 3, 2007
I honestly don't know what you were expecting out of this The performances were great, the writing was witty, the cinematography was breath-taking, and the direction was by far Anderson's best. Sure, you can give this film a 5 out of 10 but if you do that, please give his other films a lesser rating You are right, Anderson hasn't really changed his style at all but you loved rushmore Take Rushmore and add actually good actors and you have Darjeeling limited
Matthew Christopher Ferrara on Mar 24, 2008
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