The Darjeeling Limited
"C'mon ride the train. Hey. Ride It. Woo Woo!"
Wes Anderson movies have become almost a genre unto themselves. Filled with quirky characters, absurdly dry humor, dysfunctional families and soundtracks the like of which make Zach Braff look positively silly, his movies have a certain 'love it' or 'hate it' quality about them. And like most indie darlings that eventually find mainstream success, Wes Anderson seems to be experiencing inevitable backlash recently. Some of it is be due to the fact that his last film The Life Aquatic is generally seen as a step backwards (though I argue that it's not that bad), and much of it has to do with the fact that the bar has been set so high with his first three films ( Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums) that people's expectations tend to be unreasonably high. But as Axl can surely tell you, no matter how hard you try, you can't replicate 'Appetite for Destruction' every time out.
Well, if Life Aquatic was a misstep, then consider The Darjeeling Limited a step back in the right direction. More reminiscent of Tenenbaums, Darjeeling deals with three brothers who haven't spoken in over a year, who decide to try to reconnect on a emotional and spiritual level via a train ride across India. This certainly sounds like a pretentious premise, but for the majority of the film their search for spiritual enlightenment is played for laughs, and even the brothers seem to realize that the concept of 'finding themselves' in India is more than a bit cliche. Well two of the brothers do at least. The third brother, Francis (Owen Wilson), spearheads the journey and is hellbent on forging a bond between the siblings by any means necessary, so long as these means adhere to the strict laminated itineraries that he created.
Darjeeling benefits from the usual stellar soundtrack and Anderson's trademark style is apparent in spades, from slow-motion to the use of dominant colors and unique camera shots. But what really makes this film hum is the brilliant performance of Owen Wilson, whose infectious enthusiasm as the eldest brother Francis is the perfect complement to his younger brothers droll, subdued personalities (Adrien Brody is downright catatonic at times). Clearly, when given the right material (ie, Wes Anderson movies or Vince Vaughn pairings), Owen is capable of being extremely funny. In this film, Francis has some eerie parallels to Owen's own real life troubles, which makes the character all the more compelling.
The first half of the film is strictly comedy, but then it takes a serious, poignant turn in the last act. In lesser hands this transition could prove to be jarring, but Anderson's deft direction makes for a smooth transition and allows for some of his most mature work yet.
Much like it's three protagonists, this film is not without it's flaws. It ambles along at times without a sense of direction. The symbolism is at times a bit heavy handed and sometimes so ridiculously blatant that at the screening I was at, even Helen Keller rolled her eyes (Or maybe her eyes were rolled back since she's blind and all? One can never be sure with ole' Helen). There were more false endings than the last Lord of the Rings movie. I half expected to see Frodo and Sam hopping on a bed together before the end credits rolled. Some would also argue that this is 'more of the same' from Wes Anderson and while I wouldn't argue that point, if I go to my favorite restaurant and they give me mashed potatoes every single time, I'm not one to complain.
But you know what? I love The Darjeeling Limited, flaws and all. The movie stayed with me long after I left the theatre and made me feel all warm and content on the inside. Kind of like the feeling you get when you polish off a hearty dinner of duck meat and boiled potatoes, washing it all down with a tumbler of premium tequila on a cold winter day. Then you fall asleep clad in a thin white robe, listening to Sigur Ros and wrapped in a electric blanket as the snow falls outside. Now that's a spiritual journey my friends.
Thunder Matt Rating: 4 Pretentious Hipsters Out of 5
*The Kingdom Revision: In a somewhat unprecedented move, I would like to amend my prior review of The Kingdom. Originally I gave it 4.5 out of 5 Stars and essentially made love to the movie. Well, I saw it for a second time last weekend. Still really liked it, but lets bump it down to a 4 out of 5 instead shall we? Perhaps even a 3.75 if such a rating existed. The sign of a great movie is how well it stands up to repeat viewings and this one, while still good, didn't rip my dick off this time like it did before. Maybe that's because it had already ripped my dick off, thus I had no dick to rip off this time. Hmm....