The Darjeeling Limited: Style Over Substance

Posted by Miss Ess, March 21, 2008 08:37pm | Post a Comment
I must be in an overly cynical mood today. Regardless, I just finished watching Wes Anderson's The Darjeeling Limited, which has recently come out on DVD.

This movie is yet another suitably quirky Anderson film. I'm all for directors who put their stamp on their pictures, especially when it's to the degree where you can tell who made it just by looking at a brief clip.  I'm also all for characters that are idiosyncratic and different. What I'm trying to say is, I really do like Wes Anderson, perhaps mostly because he doesn't make Julia Roberts movies. Ever. He has his own voice, and I applaud that.

That said, this movie was all style, no substance, which is what his movies sometimes can be, at their worst.

The Darjeeling Limited is built around a wonderful, interesting concept: Three adult American brothers unite in India to reconnect.  The brothers are, of course, suitably quirky to the nth degree. They are played by Owen Wilson (Francis), Adrian Brody (Peter) and Jason Schwartzman (Jack). These oddball brothers are wealthy enough to stay endlessly at gorgeous Parisian hotels, tear up their return tickets from India and carry an Ipod with a speaker dock all through their Indian trip by train/bus/bike/etc, but they are duly pained by their father's death and their mother's negligence. It was difficult for me to invest myself in their story-- they come off as exceedingly self absorbed, and while that may have worked for Margot Tenenbaum (in Anderson's highly enjoyable The Royal Tenenbaums), she was not filmed interacting with locals throughout third world India-- rather, she appeared in her natural environment of upper class New York City. The characters here seemed to have permanently down turned, achingly sad eyes, overly glorified by many closeups and slow pans. Oh, the pain of great wealth and great luggage!

On the plus side, the movie is gorgeously shot. Every frame is bursting with detail and eye candy. The colors and patterns of India are well suited to Anderson's style, which always celebrates minutia. Each well-selected song on the soundtrack seems labored over and suitably Beatles-esque or sitar laced.

In fact, this entire movie feels exceedingly labored over -- which is great when it comes to the styling, but a bummer when it comes to the plot. At one point, Peter, looking over Francis' newly scarred face from a motorcycle accident, declares unironically, "It's definitely going to add more character to you." Great-- in fact, each of the brothers could use a shot of personality beyond their obvious quirk! Ultimately, all the elements of a moving film are accounted for here: life, death, love, spirituality, a cobra...and still, nothing comes of it....

....but they really do have the most enviable luggage ever-- stenciled with elephants and palm trees and other suitable travel motifs! I don't think I am really giving all that much away by saying that the brothers arrive in the film with this gorgeous, perfect looking but nonetheless heavy and multitudinous baggage, and by the end of it, they are literally flinging it away, overdramatically casting it off piece by

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The Darjeeling Limited (1), Wes Anderson (8)