October 29, 2007

Movie Review: The Darjeeling Limited

Wes Anderson is one of those filmmakers that inspires blind praise and hatred, sometimes in the same breath. I have read his supporters who say anyone who doesn't like his films just doesn't get them and isn't open to the message. I have read detractors who say he is pretentious, untalented, and his films go nowhere and do nothing other than say: "Hey look! I'm an indie filmmaker, look how indie I can be!" To a degree I can agree with both sides of the argument. I just think that he has bought into his own hype and is trying too hard to be quirky and weird. The Darjeeling Limited is a good example of this. It is a movie that I really wanted to like, but in the end I could only enjoy parts of it. Overall I can't help but think that Anderson has peaked and is on a backslide. Will it last? Not likely, but it does exist.

The Darjeeling Limited is the story of three brothers, Francis (Owen Wilson), Peter (Adrien Brody), and Jack (Jason Schwartzman). The trio have not spoken in a year. They last spoke at their father's funeral. Francis has set up a spiritual journey for them, traveling across India on the Darjeeling Limited train with a visit to their absentee mother as their final destination. Now, the brothers do not exactly get along, the relationship is clearly more due to family ties rather than any real friendship, though I suppose some of that is there as well. Well, I am getting ahead of myself a bit.

This weekend the prequel short, The Hotel Chevalier, was added onto the feature. It was previously only available on iTunes. The thirteen minute short features a hotel encounter between Scwartzman's Jack and an ex-girlfriend, played by Natalie Portman. I sat through this and wondered just what I was supposed to get out of it. Jack's personal tics? His odd relationship with his ex? I found it to be more of a bore. It was just there, notable only for the Natalie Portman "nude scene." I was glad when it was over and we could move on to the feature.

The feature starts and the brothers' journey begins. Each of them have their individual quirks, from Francis' controlling nature (down to having a hidden assistant delivering laminated itineraries), Peter's materialistic ways, and Jack's issues with dealing with women. In addition to those quirks they have the baggage of their shared familial past. There is definitely something about their relationship with both of their parents that they have carried with them on their life journeys.

Of course, along with their journey come sibling squabbles and all manner of impediments to their spiritual enlightenment. In order for them to be able to get on with their lives they need to come to terms with their past and with each other. It is interesting to note that not much of their collective past is revealed. We are left to figure out their issues by examining them in the present.

I admit that there were moments of interest, some of the dialogue was funny, there were even sequences that worked. The problem is when we arrive at the end I found that I did not care about any of them. I didn't care if they were able to get on with their lives, I didn't care if they learned to live with each other, or if they got over the loss of their father. I didn't care. I was too distracted by the "Look how indie I am" feel of the proceedings.

It was a frustrating experience (been having a lot of those lately). There was a lot to like, but I felt that it would have played better in small chunks. Now, if Wes decided to get all experimental with online tech are released this as a series of webisodes, then I probably would have liked this a lot more. I thought some of the cinematography was great, some of the music (selected from Indian films) was excellent, and I liked some of the quirkiness. Sadly, I just could not get into the overall story, and the whole luggage thing, ugh.

I believe that Anderson is talented, but like other talent on the slide (I'm looking at you M. Nught Shyamalan), I think he needs to find collaboraters and not enablers. I feel he is surrounding himself with like minds who won't speak up, or don't know to speak up, when something doesn't work. It will be interesting to see what the future holds.

Bottomline. I wanted to like this film, and I did in fits and spurts. Break it down into smaller chunks (minus Hotel Chevalier) and I think it would be much easier to like. Lines, situations, and performances are good, but taken as a whole and the journey is not really worth taking.

Mildly Recommended.


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