I’m a huge Wes Anderson fan so whenever he makes a film I take notice. But oddly enough his 2007 comedy/drama “The Darjeeling Limited” is one I still needed to see. In true Anderson style “The Darjeeling Limited” has a quirky sense of humor and it dabbles in several of the filmmaker’s familiar themes. It also features some of Anderson’s acting staples including his old college buddy Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, Adrien Brody, and Bill Murray. And while some people consider this some of Anderson’s lesser work, I think it’s a movie that captures what I like about his films while carving out its own unique path.
In this offbeat concoction the opening scene is important. In India a businessman (Murray) tries unsuccessfully to catch his train as it departs the station. While he fails another man, encumbered by heavy luggage, just manages to board the train as it heads down the tracks. This short sequence is a microcosm of the entire film. It’s strange, funny, well shot, and filled with meaning.
The man who made the train is Peter (Brody). He is onboard the Darjeeling Limited passenger train to meet his two brothers, the controlling and downright anal Francis (Wilson) and the brokenhearted and obsessive Jack (Schwartzman). The three haven’t seen each other since their father’s funeral and Francis sets up the reunion in hopes of bringing them closer together. The train trip across India is framed as being a spiritual awakening of sorts but Francis may have something else as his motivation.
The movie pulls many laughs from these odd personalities, but that shouldn’t come as any surprise. Wes Anderson’s wacky cinematic worlds routinely feature idiosyncratic people with an assortment of troubles and in various states of despair and melancholy. His humor can be a bit prickly. By that I mean it isn’t easy for some viewers to cozy up to. Personally I love his unique brand and we get plenty of it in this film. But there is also a strong dramatic thread that runs throughout the film and really shows itself in the last act. This mix of well executed comedy and heartfelt, meaningful drama is what drives the picture.
Considering the amounts of dry kooky humor, it may surprise some people to find this much heart. But Anderson has always had a knack for that. He’s always dealing with family troubles as well as feelings of isolation and despondency. We certainly get that in this film. There is symbolism scattered throughout the film that deals on more emotional levels once they are realized. For example, take the aforementioned luggage. Anderson takes something simple like luggage, weaves it throughout the narrative, and uses it to make one of the movie’s more effective points. These treats are clever and satisfying.
I also must give credit to Wilson, Brody, and Shwartzman. These guys work so well within Anderson’s narrative style which probably explains why he keeps going back to them. The three offer great subtlety in their humor and watching them play off each other is a lot of fun. But they also dial it back when the story calls for it which is vital. Theres some good supporting work from Amara Karan as a train stewardess, Wallace Wolodarsky as Francis’ “assistant, and Waris Ahluwalia as the Darjeeling’s chief steward. Bill Murray has a brief but fun role and Anjelica Huston has a small yet important appearance. There are also some nice cameos from Natalie Portman (remember Hotel Chevalier?) and Irrfan Khan.
“The Darjeeling Limited” is soaked with Wes Anderson’s style. Whether it’s the humor and storytelling or his visual methods which include panning cameras, use of colors, or his particular use of music. There are a few lulls that the film experiences particularly in the second half. They never last long but they are noticeable and maybe they do keep this from being some of Anderson’s best work. Regardless I’m still a big fan of this film. I laughed a lot and I really responded to the emotional tugs we get later on. In the end it’s yet another example of why I love Wes Anderson movies.