Monday, April 28, 2008

The Darjeeling Limited

Wes Anderson and Christopher Guest have a lot in common as directors. Both tend to rely on the same stable of actors. Both direct character-driven comedies. Both appreciate their characters to have a touch of zaniness. And both organize their films around the hopelessly optimistic quests of their very flawed main characters.

Of course, there are differences. Guest films straightforwardly and values improvisation. Anderson constructs incredibly detailed and meticulously composed shots. Guest goes for the chuckle; Anderson goes for the smirk.

These tendencies continue unabated in Anderson's The Darjeeling Limited--fortunately, they're almost entirely endearing.

The Darjeeling Limited begins with Bill Murray--an Anderson staple--racing to catch a train. He's eventually overtaken by Adrien Brody--an Anderson newcomer--and the scene seems to suggest nothing more than the fact that Brody will be occupying a central role in this film rather than Murray this time around. Murray appears only once more in an inconsequential scene.

That's how The Darjeeling Limited starts, but that's not where we begin. We begin with a short film called Hotel Chevalier, which introduces Jack Whitman (Jason Schwartzman--Anderson regular) and his complicated relationship with his (ex?) girlfriend, played by Natalie Portman, an Anderson newcomer. Seen before the main feature, Hotel Chevalier leaves the viewer with more questions than answers, and seems to have little purpose more than displaying Portman semi-nude.

The relationship is further explained in the main feature, though Portman never appears again. In any case, that relationship is secondary to the film; the primary relationship is that between brothers Francis Whitman (Owen Wilson--Anderson regular), Peter Whitman (Brody), and Jack Whitman (Schwartzman). After Francis' disfiguring motorcycle accident, he decides that he wants to reconnect with his estranged younger brothers on a spiritual journey through India. Peter and Jack consent to the idea, but it's clear that it's neither are too excited about it.

The series of events that follows seems to pale in importance compared to the character tics that each of the leads establish: Francis' overprotective older-siblingness, Peter's tendency to nick their deceased father's personal effects, Jack's crush on one of the train's attendants, and the tendency of all three to confide things in one that they keep from the other. And--in another Andersonian theme--all three demonstrate the various ways in which their parents have screwed them up.

Watching an Anderson film puts you into a certain mode: two parts confused, one part amused. Anderson doesn't go for many laugh-out-loud moments--which may be frustrating for those used to the Will Ferrell school of comedy--but he does throw in plenty of smirks. And, in large part, the reason you can't laugh out loud more is because Anderson keeps so many details close to the vest--it's hard to be sure what's funny and what's not, but the films almost always warrant and reward a repeat viewing.

That said, it's difficult to fully gauge The Darjeeling Limited having only seen it once. As it stands right now, I'd put it behind Rushmore and The Royal Tennenbaums--both of which I've seen multiple times--but ahead of The Life Aquatic, which I've also seen once. The movie is intriguing and the characters are endearing--and while it seems to wear on a bit long (suffering a bit from multiple-ending syndrome), it offers a satisfying (if just a tad too neatly wrapped) conclusion. Given the caveat about Anderson movies improving with repeat viewings--as Guest's movies do--I'll give it an 8 for now.

An Iconic Lines section might be helpful here:
Jack: What did he say?
Peter: He said the train is lost.
Jack: How can a train be lost? It's on rails.

Francis: [
Francis and Peter are beating each other up] You don't love me!
Peter: Yes I do!
Jack: I love you too, but I'm gonna mace you in the face!

Jack: I wonder if the three of us would've been friends in real life. Not as brothers, but as people.


Your Racist Friend said...

I hated The Life Aquatic so much I can't bring myself to watch The Darjeeling Limited. When I get progressively more disgusted with a director like that, I call it the Shymahlan rule.

Dr. Worm said...

I'd recommend giving Darjeeling a chance. It's more serious than Life Aquatic, and, paradoxically, it's consequentially funnier.

I can see the point, though. Both Anderson and Shyamalan have a very specific style, which is fresh and interesting at first, but a little tiresome when it remains the same 5 movies later. That said, I think the slope from Rushmore to Darjeeling is much softer than the slope from Sixth Sense to Lady in the Water.

Your Racist Friend said...

Shyamalan is fine as a stylist; the problem is that he's written the same damn movie 8 or so times, AND AMERICA KEEPS FALLING FOR IT. I find it really discouraging that people accept something as predictable as his "screenwriting".

Moshe Reuveni said...

I fell for it, too, and I even thought that Sixth Sense was boring to begin with.