By Adam Frazier
In director Wes Andersonâ€™s fifth feature film, ”The Darjeeling Limited”, three estranged brothers find themselves (literally and perhaps figuratively) on a spiritual journey.
In order to talk about ”The Darjeeling Limited”, one must mention the short film that precedes it, ”The Hotel Chevalier,” which serves as a charming prologue to the feature. In this 13-minute introduction we meet Jack Whitman (Jason Schwartzman) who, after a shattered romance, is licking his wounds in a Paris hotel suite.
His ex-girlfriend (Natalie Portman) shows up (as ex-girlfriends always do) and crashes back into his broken life, forcing him to come face-to-face with her and his own self-loathing. What results is an alluring, lusty affair that serves no other means than introducing the audience to one of the central characters in ”The Darjeeling Limited”.
In the feature, we learn that Jack is one of three very idiosyncratic brothers who have been estranged since their fatherâ€™s death over a year ago. Big brother Francis (a bruised and bandaged Owen Wilson) has recently met death face-firstâ€¦ literally. After slamming into a hillside on his motorbike and having an epiphany, Francis has devised a way of uniting with brothers Jack and Peter (Adrien Brody) in hopes of strengthening their bonds as a family.
With the help of a private investigator, Francis has tracked down the trioâ€™s mother (Anjelica Huston), who has fled reality of her husbandâ€™s death to become a nun in the Himalayas. But thatâ€™s the final destination – first the brothers must meet in India and climb aboard the Darjeeling Limited, a locomotive that will take them on a spiritual journey to enlightenment (supposedly).
Each Whitman brother is marked by a distinctive bundle of peculiar traits. As the eldest, Francis has a tendency to plan everything out for his brothers â€“ even going to great lengths to construct lengthy itineraries for each dayâ€™s activities. He even orders their meals and acts as mediator over family squabbles.
Then thereâ€™s Jack who is hung up on his exâ€™s perfume and seeks out new love in-between shots of Indian prescription cough medicine and cigarettes while brother Peter rummages through his dead fatherâ€™s belongings and makes them his own. He gains the nickname of â€œrubbyâ€ from his brothers after wearing a pair of Mr. Whitmanâ€™s prescription glasses that give him constant headaches, hence massaging his temples to ease the pain.
Each one also carries matching pieces of their father’s Louis Vutton luggage, which plays a more integral part in the film that just mere product placement. In large part, ”The Darjeeling Limited” is your basic road trip picture, enhanced by compelling characters and Andersonâ€™s unmistakable atmosphere.
As the newcomer to Anderson’s world, Adrien Brody shines in this film with an engaging comic edge that has (unfortunately) been hidden in his previous works. Brodyâ€™s Peter feels right at home in between the familiar performances of Wilson and Schwartzman, yet none of the brothers dominate the other â€“ they seem to find a happy balance in not only their portrayals of the characters, but their own part of the story as a whole.
Fans of Anderson (”The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou”) will no doubt be satisfied with his latest cinematic venture as the quirky director continues to examine the painful sorrows of life with ironic whimsy and subtle, beautifully-constructed humor.
No matter how serious the themes get, Anderson and company keep the tone light and frothy. Anderson artfully portrays the Whitmanâ€™s spiritual journey as a meaningful experience while maintaining the absurdity of it all.
”The Darjeeling Limited” is an absolutely charming film that bathes in bittersweet emotional resonance. Andersonâ€™s gift is his ability to make us care about his flawed, quirky characters and to convey their story with both heartfelt compassion while keeping an ironic sense of humor about their imperfections.
All in all, those moviegoers who have waited patiently for Wes Andersonâ€™s latest film will not be disappointed. For those others who havenâ€™t experienced his signature style, ”The Darjeeling Limited” is a wonderful film that should be seen and appreciated.
The short film that precedes the movie – yes, the one that features Natalie Portman in the buff! – is on here, as is a featurette on the making-of the movie.