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Monday, October 29, 2007

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Posted By on Mon, Oct 29, 2007 at 3:16 PM

MOVIEGOER REVIEW:  THE DARJEELING LIMITED

Wes Anderson has become a fixture in American pop culture.  Appreciate his work or not, it's hard to say that Anderson hasn't had a measurable impact on modern American cinema.  After all, before him, I can't name a director that did so much with the little things to accentuate their films.  I'm always drawn to the scene in the game closet in "The Royal Tenenbaums" with board games stacked from floor to ceiling.  "Twister" and "Operation" never looked so pretty.  To me, this is what makes Wes Anderson, well, Wes Anderson.

Which is why I couldn't be more disappointed in "The Darjeeling Limited."  Granted, Anderson's moody characters, tormented in some fashion by their past or their present (usually involving girls and sex), are well developed in the film, but it's his lack of attention to the finer, more memorable things that made me wonder if  "Darjeeling" was just a lazy trip through the motions. 

And that would explain my overwhelming appreciation for "Hotel Chevalier," also known as "Part 1" of "Darjeeling".  I watched it on iTunes (as, I suppose, Anderson and Apple meant for me too) and loved it then.  Watching it on the big screen didn't make me feel any different.  "Hotel Chevalier" is everything right and good about Wes Anderson's style. In "Darjeeling," Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman and Adrien Brody are the Whitman brothers, on a spiritual journey across India to contemplate their rocky relationship a year after the death of their father.  They visit some interesting places and interact with some not-so-interesting people.  There's a snake and a tiger and a tempermental train attendant.  Francis loses a shoe, Peter loses his snake and Jack loses it (well, not it), with a beautiful girl on the train.  After a series of fights, and a funny mace scene, the brothers, expectedly, come around to each other.  The release whatever cosmic grip their father might have on them by leaving his animal print Louis Vuitton luggage behind, and venture off to see their strange mother in the mountains. 

All of this might have worked if Anderson had spent more time developing the back story.  "Hotel Chevalier" told us about Jack (Schwartzman), but nothing about Francis (Wilson) and Peter (Brody).  It was disappointing because both came into the trip with problems of their own (Francis almost died after intentionally drove a motorcycle into a hill, and Peter left his pregnant wife without telling her).  Understanding their frame of mind when they arrived, not just when they left, would have been helpful.

Which means that my ultimate grievance with the film is with the writing.  Anderson's first three films, "Bottle Rocket," "Rushmore" and "The Royal Tenenbaums" were all written with Owen Wilson.  "The Life Aquatic" was written with Noah Baumbach, who received an Oscar nomination for "The Squid and the Whale." 
For "Darjeeling," Anderson solicited the help of Schwartzman and Roman Coppola (whose only past writing experience is on a french film called "CQ").   See my point?

All together, "The Darjeeling Limited" might  not be Anderson's finest hour.  Then again, "Hotel Chevalier" just might be.

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