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ISSUE 121 VOL 5 PUBLISHED 10/26/2007

Anderson's 'Darjeeling' derailed by plot

By Hannah Hayes
Staff Writer

Friday, October 26, 2007

Director Wes Anderson has been able to embrace his inner little girl in the most creative and possibly lucrative way possible. In his latest film "The Darjeeling Limited," Anderson continues his game of dollhouse, this time on Indian trains and in villages after his previous musings in Brownstone houses and submarines.

"Darjeeling" is the story of the three Whitman brothers and their exotic and unexplained quest to become connected. The only thing that seems to make the blonde Francis (Owen Wilson), the tall, dark and handsome Peter (Adrien Brody) and the hip Jack (Jason Schwartzman) appear related is their famous schnozzles.

Their trip takes them aboard the Darjeeling Limited train, and as they traverse India, the ambitions and secrets of the Whitman family are revealed. Francis wants to find their mother (Anjelica Huston) who has become a Himalayan nun, while Jack holds an airplane ticket doubling as an escape route to his ex-girlfriend in Paris. Peter is expecting his first child, and since he has always expected a divorce to occur somewhere in his life, the realization that he loves his wife and will soon be a father throws him for a loop.

Anderson's signature presentation makes this seemingly complex bond between brothers who have not seen each other since their father's death a year before understandable. In Anderson's game of dollhouse, every object is meticulously placed, while his characters speak their minds openly in slow, eloquent dialogue. His scenes in dirty, spicy-smelling streets and railroad cars are as clear and organized as a freshly Febreezed living room.

However, an accidental, messy tone lies beneath the movie's groomed surface. You can try to tell yourself a thousand times to take Wilson's performance at face value, but his character won't let you. Knowing Wilson will attempt suicide soon after the filming of "Darjeeling" lends weight to his character. Despite his personal life, Wilson's performance is the perfect mix of stereotypical older brother and sincere optimist. How is this the same guy that appears in "You, Me and Dupree"?

Brody blends seamlessly with Anderson's standard go-to guys, Schwartzman and Wilson, and the film is softcore porn for the small sect of young women who find Brody a crooked-nosed sex beast. In fact, his acting seems so inspired by Anderson that you'd think the guy watched "The Royal Tennenbaums" 70 times at least.

Schwartzman wrote the script with Anderson and his famous cousin Roman Coppola (son of Francis, brother of Sophia), but while the movie is a fascinating coloring book of bright Indian hues and subtle humor, the train-centered plot fails to deliver the brothers and the script anywhere.

The Whitmans eventually find their mother and even some respect for one another, but perhaps not in the way a viewer would expect. Or maybe it's all the unanswered questions like, "Why are they in India?" that make it hard to understand the movie's conclusion. Eventually, the multi-piece Louis Vuitton luggage that the brothers dragged all over India becomes the most important symbol. In the movie's conclusion, the brothers unload their baggage while running in one of Anderson's famous slow motion scenes to catch a train.

All in all, the "Darjeeling Limited" may seem like another esoteric, family-character study by Anderson and company, but it produces a soundtrack almost as solid as the one for "The Royal Tennenbaums." It's filled with Anderson's favorite Cat Stevens-sounding acoustic and organ tracks. And if the purpose of the film completely escapes you, there is always that short, 13-minute film titled "Hotel Chevalier," which features a very naked Natalie Portman. It is available for free download on iTunes.

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