Thursday, April 3, 2008

The Darjeeling Limited. Terrific stuff. Out now. (********8/10)

There is a short film before The Darjeeling Limited called Hotel Chevalier. It is a wonderful addition to a wonderful film. Natalie Portman stars with Jason Schwartzman in the short flim, and she gets very naked. Not that it's worth it just for that, but it sets up the movie beautifully. Portman is in The Darjeeling Limited for a total of one eighth of one second, so the only time we get to understand what she's doing there is in Hotel Chevalier. The first shot of the short film is unmistakably Wes Anderson. The giddily coloured hotel lobby is in perfect keeping with his other work - Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou. Anderson is about the quirkiest and maybe the best director working within the studio system. There are many things that connect his films. First of all, the actors in his movies spend a lot of time sitting perfectly still. There is little movement in the films, and even when there is a scene with action, it seems very understated and the colour of the scene is more engaging than the action itself. Another fixture of a Wes Anderson movie is dysfunctional families, bizarre relationships and aberrant behaviour within those families. The Darjeeling Limited is no exception.

And the third common thread - the actors. Bill Murray has starred in the last three Anderson movies, and he appears here as the first actor we see, running to catch a train. He misses the train, and we never see him again. But at least he shows up. Adrien Brody sprints past Murray to catch that same train (the Darjeeling Limited), and joins Jason Schwartzman (Rushmore) and Owen Wilson (Rushmore, Bottle Rocket, Royal Tenenbaums, Life Aquatic), who are his brothers. They are on this train because Owen Wilson, who appears to be amazingly rich, has decided to bring all three of them together on some kind of bonkers, misguided "spiritual quest", following the death of their father. Anjelica Huston (Royal Tenenbaums, Life Aquatic) plays their mom, who eventually figures into the story. This journey is totally directionless - to the point that the train, although it is on a track, actually gets lost. None of the brothers truly trust each other, and there is a lot of back-stabbing and gossip going on between them.

There is something extremely childish about Wes Anderson films. Not in subject matter, certainly, but in visual presentation. Every character seems, at the same time, both larger than life and totally insignificant. And so too does the decor on the train, the countryside outside the train, and the layout of the rooms. But the one thing that is consistent about his movies is that they are excellent. Every one of them. There is nothing in Darjeeling Limited that is what DVD boxes would call "laugh-out-loud funny". But then, the entire thing IS funny. It's hilariously funny. And it's the underacting and the overacting, the big reactions to small things and the small reactions to big things, it's the tone and the setting and the minimal dialogue and the ideas that are in the heads of the characters. Ideas that are rarely spoken but that we know about, and that we find very amusing. Scenes that should be massively dramatic are treated with a certain impassiveness by Anderson - there is a scene toward the end, where the brothers are confronting their mother over some wrongs, and Owen Wilson admits that the bandages that have been around his head the entire movie are the result of a suicide attempt, it's all passed over so quickly and so astutely that we are still amused, maybe even more so. The Darjeeling Limited won't appeal to everyone, just like Rushmore and Life Aquatic and Royal Tenenbaums, but it certainly stands with them in terms of excellence.

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