The Darjeeling Limited 2 stars
Starring Jason Schwartzman, Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, Camilla Rutherford and Amara Karan. Directed by Wes Anderson. Released by Fox Searchlight. Rated R; 1:31.
I can’t remember who first said that all art is subtraction, but Wes Anderson, director of “The Royal Tenenbaums,” “Life Aquatic” and now “The Darjeeling Limited,” should take those words to heart. Truly great films are lean, lucid and purposeful. Save for only a few exceptions, Anderson’s films are like houseguests who overstay their welcome.
A case can be made that he isn’t cut out for features. Example: “Hotel Chevalier” is a 13-minute short that precedes his new feature and is so much better than the main attraction. Young, melodramatic Jack (Jason Schwartzman) whiles away his time in a five-star Parisian hotel. Lovesick and depressed, he’s tracked down by his former lover, a wafer-thin fashionista looking for a transcontinental booty call (Natalie Portman imitating French New Wave goddess Jean Seberg). No matter how much he hates her, he can’t deny her.
It’s a great film: hilariously over-the-top, yet heartfelt and with a coy, ambiguous ending. It leaves you hungry for more.
The same cannot be said for “Darjeeling Limited.” It follows three of the idle rich: brothers Jack, Peter (Adrien Brody) and Francis (Owen Wilson). Francis has invited them along for a spiritual journey through India aboard the titular train. All of them are in deep existential crises, alienated from each other, their wives and girlfriends and especially their mother. Of course, the trip is a farce: Francis knows nothing about India and less about spirituality. Peter and Francis are too self-involved and bitter to buy into Francis’ scheme anyway.
As is Anderson’s way, there are fantastic moments. His absurd, deadpan dialogue — grounded in the characters’ exaggerated sense of self-importance — generates plenty of laughs, even if the shtick begins to wear thin by the end. And his use of evocative costumes, candy-colored sets and whimsical music makes it an aesthetically rich film.
And yet, the movie fails to live up to expectations. Schwartzman and Wilson are good enough comedians but are really just playing characters we’ve seen from them many times before (the man-child and the buffoon, respectively). Brody, who is really best suited for drama, can’t find space for himself between these two resolute over-actors.
As is also Anderson’s way, he presents us with a script that could have used another draft or two. The symbolism can be maddeningly obvious: At one point near the end, the brothers throw away the pricey Louis Vuitton luggage. Get it? They’ve lost their baggage.
“Darjeeling Limited” also suffers from a final reel that desperately reaches for a sense of closure that it doesn’t really need (the exact opposite approach of “Hotel Chevalier”). The result is an interminable conclusion that undermines any good left in the movie.
As a friend said, “‘Darjeeling Limited’ had like 10 endings, all of which I hated.”