Profundity and versatility may not define him, but filmmaker Wes Anderson, of “Rushmore” and “Royal Tenenbaums” fame, has combined personal disconnect, familial sputter and melancholic eccentricity into some winning oddball universes. He repeats the ingredients, but with dimmer results, in his latest depressive comedy, “The Darjeeling Limited.” Quirks galore can’t make up for a shortage of his former poignancy and spark.
Absent parents, suicidal children, shell-shocked visages and pop-packed clutter are among the familiar Anderson ingredients here. So are Owen Wilson and Jason Schwartzman, who, joined by Adrien Brody, play grief-scarred brothers who, a year after their father’s death, unite in India to embark on a spiritual quest. In their emotional-baggage compartment on the titular train, individual hang-ups and collective dysfunctions emerge.
Oldest son Francis (Wilson), his head bandaged due to a motorcycle crash that may not have been accidental, hyper-controls everything from itineraries to meal selections.Middle sibling Peter (Brody) wears Dad’s humongous sunglasses and has a pregnant wife he always assumed he’d divorce. Barefoot Jack (Schwartzman), when not pursuing the stewardess, is obsessively checking his ex’s phone messages.
Written by Anderson, Schwartzman and Roman Coppola, the loosely constructed story takes the form of assorted seriocomic adventures involving everything from temple rites to cough syrup. A brush with tragedy and a visit with Mother (Anderson regular Anjelica Huston, in the film’s strongest performance), who has run away and become a nun, cap things off.
Basically, the movie, which also includes slow-mo, Kinks tunes, references to Jean Renoir, a Bill Murray cameo, and some scene-stealing luggage, is Anderson operating in his established personality groove, and that has its merits. The presentation of the sibling-relations snarl is on target. The meeting with Mom amusingly reveals where Francis got his exasperating traits. India looks colorful and “spicy.”
But all said, this is shallow going. As the guys squabble and stumble, we get little sense of their wounds, and their disjointedness lacks the melancholic charge that has distinguished previous Anderson fare, even the flawed “Life Aquatic.” The goofy pilgrim antics have only minimal fizz. The human-connection spark that made “Rushmore” so irresistible barely registers — fatal for a film that presents itself as a soul-train ride. We’re unconvinced that anybody’s been truly transported.
On a related note, Anderson has released a prequel to “Darjeeling,” a short film called “Hotel Chevalier.” Viewable online and featuring Schwartzman and Natalie Portman, it provides some welcome background for the full-length story.
The Darjeeling Limited **½
Starring Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, Adrien Brody, Anjelica Huston
Written by Wes Anderson. Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman
Directed by Wes Anderson
Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes