The Darjeeling Limited lacks the heart and wit of the best Wes Anderson films
Wes Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited is an odd watching experience. It features all the trademark quirks and tics you’d expect from the auteur, and yet it just never comes together in a satisfying way. Not funny enough to be a comedy, not meaningful enough to be an effective drama, The Darjeeling Limited suffers from the outstanding reputation of its director.
Brothers Peter (Adrien Brody), Francis (Owen Wilson) and Jack (Jason Schwartzman) meet each other on the titular train, having not spoken for a year since their Father’s funeral. The three are dysfunctional in their own different ways. Peter is about to have a baby with the wife he thought he’d end up divorcing. Jack is a desperate romantic and terrible writer still reeling from a bad breakup. Francis, bandaged head to toe due to a car accident, is a controlling manipulator who has his meek assistant on hand to plan out the entire trip. Through the duration of the journey and beyond, the brothers come together and began to bond like they did before the funeral.
The idea of a family made up of three people of varying neuroses instantly brings to mind Anderson’s best film, The Royal Tenenbaums. Sadly, the sharply observed characters aren’t there, all three being pretty blank. Brody gives good deadpan as the quieter, morose brother, keeping his cool as he grows ever more furious with Francis. It’s a performance that is actually too good for the character; we know little of Peter and it’s purely due to Brody’s laidback charm that Peter remains an effective emotional core.
Wilson and Schwartzman, both known for iconic characters in previous Anderson films, are disappointing. Wilson’s character is occasionally irritating in a funny way, but a lot of the time he’s just irritating. It’s only in his quieter, more reflexive moments when we get to see the full capabilities of Wilson; most of the time, he’s just a less interesting Eli Cash. Schwartzman is even less well served. Jack is a total blank of a character, not particularly expressive, amusing or interesting. He gets the odd good line here and there, but considering how brilliant Schwartzman was in Anderson’s breakthrough Rushmore, it feels like a waste of his talent, and is perhaps the most ordinary and lifeless character Anderson has ever written.
Anderson’s directorial style is precise enough that even his worst films are beautifully composed, and The Darjeeling Limited is no exception. The sweltering Indian deserts, cramped claustrophobic trains, and neatly packaged luggage are all triumphs of cinematography, and Anderson keeps coming up with new, inventive ways of filming on location. More impressive is the more dramatic, realistic side of Anderson displayed in the second half of the film; many think of Anderson’s films as follies and shaggy dog stories, but a scene in which three young boys capsize in a river is as powerful and haunting as the ‘Needle in the Hay’ scene from The Royal Tenenbaums, and though the film perhaps doesn’t quite earn the right to play with the audience’s emotions like it does, it’s undeniably moving.
The Darjeeling Limited is never less than watchable, but rarely goes beyond being okay at best. The look and sound of the film is gorgeous and there is the odd laugh or good dramatic performance, but otherwise it just fails to satisfy in the way it should. The script lacks any memorable or particularly sharp lines, the characters aren’t interesting or quirky; even the situation is fairly mundane. This isn’t bad filmmaking, but it is very impersonal, and it would take Wes Anderson until 2012’s Moonrise Kingdom to once again be crowned king of the American indies.
By Harry Ford