Saturday, December 01, 2007

The Darjeeling Limited

Wes Anderson's The Darjeeling Limited hasn't so much divided reviewers as scattered them all over the spectrum of opinion from great to middling" Now that I've seen it, I can see why. There's a lot to like in it, but also a lot of stuff that could easily be seen as irritatingly quirky or weirdly sentimental.

It's about three brothers - Francis, Peter and Jack (Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody and Jason Schwartzman) - who have been separated for a year following the death of their father. Francis has now dragged a reluctant Peter and Jack together for a long-distance train journey across India, in what he sees as a spiritual journey to bring the family back together, but in reality is plainly just a load of half-understood nonsense and tourist visits to temples. The titular Darjeeling Limited, if you're wondering, is the name of the train.

Anderson does love his quirkily estranged families, and this is a nicely constructed, gently amusing story which slowly drip-feeds the explanation of how these characters ended up in their broken state. It's basically a road movie - some characters go on a journey, and their relationships change along the way. The cast are great, and the Indian setting is beautifully shot.

That said, Anderson's films have a self-conscious quirkiness which is becoming a little bit repetitive, and it would be nice to see him try a different tone for once. There's also some validity in the criticism that the film starts off with the characters on a "spiritual journey" which we're obviously meant to find ludicrous, but rather botches the shift to their real spiritual journey where they really learn about themselves. At the end of the day it's still three middle class Americans wandering around rural India and being awed by the spirituality of their experience - and the distinction between tourist spirituality and the real thing isn't drawn especially well.

It's also not a desperately funny film, but then I don't think it's necessarily meant to be. There's a lengthy sequence which clearly isn't supposed to be amusing at all, and Anderson seems to have been going for quirky drama more than comedy. Perhaps Anderson's tics aren't as appealing when he's not being funny - perhaps they end up creating a distance that makes it harder to invest in the broken relationships that he wants us to care about. After all, Anderson is the sort of director prepared to make his characters spend the entire film carrying around something which isn't so much a metaphor as a groan-inducing visual pun - and who then wants to use it for a big, heart-warming moment.

I still liked it, but not as much as Anderson's previous films. He can get rather wearing when he's not being funny.