Let’s see, three intense brothers named Jack, Peter and Francis – all with heavy issues, a fondness for dramatic gestures and a little liquid chemical assistance to get through, and a hard-headed mother named Patricia”¦.hmm, Irish possibly?
Meet the Whitman boys.
The wealthy trio, still grieving for the loss of their father a year ago, are brought together in India, aboard the Darjeeling Limited, by the eldest, domineering brother Francis (Owen Wilson).
In that laughable way that some people go to India with the idea that they’re headed for some Ground Zero of spirituality and it will rub off on them like pixie dust and make everything right, Francis wants them to have a “˜spiritual journey’ (think Spalding Grey and his elusive “˜perfect moment’) and has engineered everything as much as he can (laminated itineraries with 20-minute side-trips to temples included).
The other two of the be-suited brothers are Peter (Adrien Brody) and Jack (Jason Schwartzman). The latter is mooning over his wobbly relationship with Natalie
Amygdala Portman, and the former is freaked out because his wife is expecting a baby and he’s not sure about staying with his wife. Patricia (Angelica Huston) is their runaway mother, now a nun somewhere in the foothills of the Himalayas.
Honestly, I went into this movie without much enthu. I expected not to like it, having found Tennenbaums vaguely depressing, and so thought the only plus of the evening would be seeing how Anderson treated India, but from the moment I saw the color-coordinated blue-green a/c First Class interiors and the Sikh bellman’s turban, my expectations shifted, and it was all happy and easy from there.
The boys hurtle across the desert, bumping up against each other, figuratively and literally, in their sleeper car, when they’re not knocking back all sorts of over-the-counter Indian drugs to medicate against the pain. Along the way, incredibly, Jack has a tryst with the onboard train attendant, Rita/Sweet Lime. Ok, I give, what’s the ferroviavle equivalent for Mile High Club?
Anyway, in the arc of the story there’s some sad stuff that happens, cue Mr. Irrfan Khan (is this the first time the Rajasthani actor has actually acted in Rajasthan?), and the boys are changed, now with a more determined common purpose.
The visuals in this movie are often as luscious as those lipstick ads that make you want to actually try to eat the stuff, it looks so good. There’s the blues of the train against the yellow of the sand, there’s the peacock feathers (hey they match the interiors and the staff’s uniforms!), the village still life of those 11 pieces of expensive, animal-emblazoned luggage piled high next to a contemplative cow, the Kismat brand notebook, and the sparseness of Angelica in the role she describes as “an action hero nun.” Hearty congrats to DOP Robert Yeoman and Production Designer Mark Freidberg.
The three men perform well, though I gotta say, I liked Adrien Brody and Owen Wilson most, just to watch the posturing and the ying yang of these two alpha male siblings (Adrien’s a stealth alpha). There’s some lines I loved: “We were on a spiritual journey but it didn’t pan out.” and “What do we pray for now?” and most especially “Are those Dad’s glasses?”
In spite of the elephant and camel on the movie poster, I think Anderson and Co. did a great job of running whatever Indianness they had in the movie parallel to the brothers, without letting it suffer any indignities in the process. In the press notes, Friedberg says: “Working in India is a trip back in time. It’s truly a hand-made place where no two of anything are the same and nothing fits in a mechanized kind of way. It was such a treat to be part of the last generation that will be able to experience this more personal and beautiful world. If I had made this same train in America, it would never have had the same personality and integrity.”
See it or skip it?
See it. It’s mood altering, in a positive way, in spite of some of the darkness that Anderson touches on. The soundtrack is excellent (Bombay Talkie and Rolling Stones), and not since Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint shared a sleeper on the 20th Century Limited has rail travel been so sexy.