It seems the Criterion Collection will not rest until every Wes Anderson film is under their banner, and with their release of The Darjeeling Limited, they are one title away from having all of his films in their collection. Few modern filmmakers seem to have pursued this goal, and few modern filmmakers seem as deserving. And yet The Darjeeling Limited strikes as a transitional work, a filmmaker trying to re-find his voice after having gone through a cycle of films that worked through the main concerns of a filmmaker. The film stars Adrien Brody, Owen Wilson and co-screenwriter Jason Schwartzman as three brothers on a spiritual quest in India to find themselves (and their mother) after their father has passed away. My review of The Darjeeling Limited on Blu-ray after the jump.
At the beginning, Wes Anderson seemed the most original of the heist movie filmmakers. Even more so than Bryan Singer’s brilliant exercise of The Usual Suspects, there was sweetness and a vision to Anderson’s material, and it brought the Wilson brothers (Owen, Luke, and – to a certain extent – Andrew) into the fore. Then came Rushmore – a radical leap forward in style – though I felt the breakthrough in content came with The Royal Tennenbaums, an intensely passionate, if not a little sloppy take on the strains of family and the weight of lineage. Unfortunately, the film seemed to crystallize who Wes Anderson thought he was, and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou played to the man’s worst instincts and emphasized “Wes Anderson’s” Wes Anderson-iness. The elaborate design and the paternal issues were all there, but in an iteration that did his meme-like sensibilities no favors. Anderson is drawn towards intellectual narcissists, but with Aquatic, it felt like he let them take over, and the results felt forced.
I don’t know how Anderson feels about his films, he may love Aquatic and the film has its fans – Anderson inspires a cultish devotion among many, though his twee-ness has turned some off. But where Royal Tennenbaums did crossover business, his success waned with The Life Aquatic and The Darjeeling Limited. Perhaps the star-studded cast of Tennenbaums helped get it over. For Darjeeling, it’s as if Anderson had run out of gas and had very little left to say or tell, and so he decided to take a road trip. This is good, as The Darjeeling Limited seems like a growing film, a transitional work, but also looser and a bit more fun.
Three brothers go on a trip in India after the passing of their father. Peter Whitman (Adrien Brody) is leaving his wife to be with his brothers, and their marriage seems in jeopardy. Jack (co-screenwriter Jason Schwartzman) is a writer who’s been nursing a broken heart. And Francis (Owen Wilson) just had an accident and is trying to control everything as they make their way through India, doing rituals but with a hidden agenda to help make them whole again.The brothers fight, they wear their uniforms, and alliances are made amongst them to fight with each other. Jack starts screwing the train hostess Rita (Amara Karan), etc. etc. Things are pleasantly jaunty until the turn in the third act when the brothers witness a disaster and try to help, remember their father’s funeral, and find the goal of their trip. This stuff works well enough, at least the accident, as the film suggests an outside world to their cerebral issues.
The film is breezy, and writers Anderson, Schwartzman and Roman Coppola hang it together on the loosest of threads, but the film manages to recognize its minor nature, and that turns into an asset – this is a travelogue piece. Even if the film ends with the boys stripping themselves of their baggage in a sequence of fairly obvious literalness, the film itself does not. One wonders if Wes Anderson will stretch his creative muscles and find a new story to tell, or do more than just frame well. I thought The Fantastic Mr. Fox suggesting he needed new ways to reinvent his issues, and perhaps adaptation is the best route to finding something to say or new ways to say it – I think Fox is one of his strongest works.
That said, everything that is obnoxious about Wes Anderson can be summed up in Hotel Chevalier, the short film that accompanies the movie. Empty poses, the framing, the dialogue, it’s all the worst instincts of the filmmaker for 12 minutes, and even a naked Natalie Portman can’t make up for it. Perhaps it’s just an homage to the sort of short films that people like Eric Rohmer made for the in-vogue omnibus films of the 1960’s, but it doesn’t amount to much.
The Criterion Collection Blu-ray presents the film in widescreen (2.35:1) and in DTS 5.1 HD surround. The film comes with a commentary by Anderson, and co-screenwriters Roman Coppola and Jason Schwartzman. Hotel Chevalier comes with an Anderson solo track. They recorded their commentary all over the world, and they all have interesting things to add about the movie, it’s a good track. The film comes with a documentary by Barry Braverman (41 min.) that highlights their work in India, and has a lot of footage of the actual process of shooting and assembling sets, which is a nice change of pace. It’s a more functional look at filmmaking than most. This is followed by Anderson in conversation with James Ivory (21 min.) which came about because Anderson used a lot of music from Satyajit Ray and the Merchant Ivory movies.
Matt Zoller Seitz contributes a visual essay on why he thinks this film is one of Anderson’s best (12 min.) and he’s got a case, and this is followed by Anderson’s wonderful American Express ad (2 min.). Actor Sriharsh’s audition is included (3 min.), and then comes “Oakley Frieddberg/Packer Speech” (4 min.), which offers one of the crew’s children talking about the making of the film from his perspective, and the charity work his family did. There’s a deleted scene and two alternate takes (3 min.) that are modest, and then a sketch by Roman Coppola (3 min.) that mostly shows them working. “Waris Diary” (12 min) offers ten behind the scenes snippets from costar Waris Ahulwawa, and a Polaroid gallery. The section called “Trophy Gallery” (1 min.) is a goof on foreign awards, then there are three still galleries, and rounding out the set is the film’s theatrical trailer.