Sunday, November 4, 2007

The Darjeeling Limited

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Estranged Siblings Seek Peace and Reconciliation during Spiritual Quest across the Subcontinent

The Whitman brothers haven’t spoken to each other since their dad died about a year ago. That isn’t much of a surprise, given the sibling rivalry which prevents them from finding any harmony whenever they’re together anyway. The tension emanates from a deep-seated dysfunction which has the eldest, control freak Francis (Owen Wilson), always dominating Peter (Adrien Brody) and Jack (Jason Schwartzman) and treating them like children.
So, of course, it would be Francis who’s now orchestrating every detail of their joint sojourn across India in search of spiritual enlightenment, a trek simultaneously designed to function as a bonding opportunity. Each planned port of call has been printed out by Francis’ able assistant Brendan (Wallace Wolodarsky) on laminated sheets which set out exactly what benefits to expect, thus taking a consumer’s materialistic approach to the contemplated metaphysical experiences.
The proverbial ugly Americans’ goal is to settle their differences and find themselves while traveling across the subcontinent’s desert aboard the Darjeeling Limited, a train outfitted with little in the way of modern amenities, the “first class” accommodations notwithstanding. Achieving peace of mind proves to be no mean feat, however, given that each of the brothers is damaged goods and currently in emotional crisis.
Heavily-bandaged Francis has barely survived a motorcycle crash. Peter’s wife is seven and a half months pregnant, yet he’s not even sure he’s ready to be a parent. And heartbroken Jack can’t get over having been dumped by his game-playing girlfriend (Natalie Portman) in Paris.
Besides spending quality time with each other, the Whitmans also want to track down their Born Again mother who has changed her name to Sister Patricia (Anjelica Huston) and lives in a convent in the foothills of the Himalayas. They need to know why she refused to attend their father’s funeral.
But getting there is all the fun in The Darjeeling Limited, the latest quirky character-driven dramedy coming courtesy of Wes Anderson. The film is the droll director’s best since Rushmore, as he has again perfected that trademark, wry sense of humor.
It helps immeasurably that Anderson depends on the services of the cinematic equivalent of a theater company, as he enjoys collaborating with a pool of regulars he’s worked with before. Among the actors here who’ve appeared in his prior productions are Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Anjelica Huston, Wallace Wolodarsky, Waris Ahluwalia and Kumar Pallana. The upshot is that this seasoned ensemble was able to execute the director’s vision with an enviable aplomb.
The Darjeeling Limited is that rare cerebral comedy which offers sophisticates a refreshing alternative to the brainless bodily-function fare which has come to typify the genre. Beside all the sidesplitting badinage, this frenetically-paced adventure is an endlessly-arresting visual treat as well, offsetting its array of colorful support players with a bounty of breathtaking panoramic backdrops. The jewel in Wes Anderson’s crown.
PS: Don’t be late, for The Darjeeling Limited is being paired with an illuminating, 13-minute prequel entitled Hotel Chevalier which, in essence, deconstructs Jack and his ex’s failed relationship.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for profanity.
Running time: 91 minutes
Studio: Fox Searchlight Pictures

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