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The end of quirk 

“The Darjeeling Limited” takes Wes Anderson’s preciousness into darker waters.

UGLY AMERICANS
  • UGLY AMERICANS

In only five and a half films, it's hard to say anything truly definitive about a director, but one thought sticks when watching “The Darjeeling Limited.” Wes Anderson's busy “Repo Man” meets Dorothy Draper mise-en-scene and twee declarations of romance bely a creeping nastiness towards the fictional obsessions of American moviegoers. In “Rushmore,” a serial fabulist retells a high school version of “The Great Gatsby”; in “The Royal Tenenbaums,” Franny and Zoey Glass forego existential despair to compete over a largely intolerable woman. To see this, however, requires that one view Wes Anderson with suspicion, something his fans aren't likely to do. He is, after all, the director who led me and other kids my age to his own antecedents — Howard Hawks, Whit Stillman, Francois Truffaut.

Doesn't matter now, because Anderson does it in “Darjeeling” pretty well himself. Where in past Anderson films, difficult romantic heroes are given soft British Invasion ballads and kooky, serpentine background stories, here we are given three Ugly Americans and a pretty pat raison d'etre. Three brothers with a difficult relationship reunite to find their mother after the death of their father. One is a kleptomaniac (Adrien Brody), one uses mock sensitivity to bag women (Jason Schwartzman) and one attempts suicide by motorbike (Owen Wilson). It's hard to not look at this rogue's gallery and see the dark side of Anderson's early heroes — quirkiness turned lethal. Their journey through India seems like an incredibly acid take on similar self-indulgent quests through history: every American road trip, from “On The Road” to Britney Spears' “Crossroads.” However, the fabulous possessions of the Orient fight back, and the brothers' trip on the eponymous train is derailed. There is precious little talking. There is little hugging. Even less learning. (The voice of reason appears briefly at the end of the film, and her last words are literally, “To be continued.”) What kind of movie am I watching here?

If the turgid, intolerable “The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou” was an unintentional caricature of Anderson's previous efforts, “The Darjeeling Limited” is a bitter antidote, a truly vicious satire of the status obsession that has crept in to art film (music on an omnipresent iPod stereo advances the plot, Marc Jacobs designed a special set of Louis Vuitton luggage for the film), in 88 breakneck minutes. It's refreshing to see a director take on radical self-awareness, but the baby got thrown out with the bathwater here. For all the confusion and excess, his films have been centered on emotional oddballs whose arrogance and fear of connection offer us some solace in our less fabulous lives. Here, I just feel taken to task.

Fritz Brantley

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