The Darjeeling Limited

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Once again we have a Wes Anderson film about strained family relationships full of quirky characters, but here the formula feels tired. Anderson’s characters have never really existed in the real world, but they’ve always been funny and likeable enough for you to care. Here, though, in general, I didn’t give a toss about them.

The character that comes out worst in the film is Jack, played by Jason Schwartzman. He’s a midget lothario who, despite the fact that he has no personality and is about three foot tall, dips his wick into an absurd amount of snatch. Quite what the women see in the wee man, I don’t know.

Maybe it’s because he allows even short-arses like Natalie Portman to feel big. In real life she’s, like, four foot two? But here, against this vertically challenged hipster, she looks like a giant. It’s obvious that she wants some midget that she can dominate.

In the opening short film Hotel Chevalier, we see the supposed ‘complicated’ relationship that these two people share. Portman has one or two bruises, which of course means that she’s tortured, and Jack says he doesn’t care when Portman says she’d never hurt him on purpose. This means that he’s dead inside – worn down by the crippling weight of the world.

This means that life must be really bad for Jack. But no, he lives in an upscale hotel room in Paris and seems to be a successful writer. Fair enough, money and success doesn’t guarantee happiness, but the film is overwhelmingly glib. All we get from these people are annoying one liners. ‘We fuck, I’m going to feel like shit tomorrow.’ ‘That’s okay with me.’ This pithy dialogue doesn’t generate any sympathy or understanding. It just reminds us that we’re watching a pair of annoying hipsters playing silly games with each other because they’re incapable of communicating properly. Getting to the point or talking like real human beings would be so fucking lame. Much better to let your ipod and the annoyingly twee songs contained within to make the point instead.

The opening short film is also frustrating because as well as failing to feed one’s brain, it also fails to feed one’s basic instincts. There’s a bit where we see Natalie Portman’s bum. Okay, even though she’s a horrible actress and basically she’s a head on a stick, I’m always up for seeing some celebrity toosh. But then later, there’s a bit where she’s naked. Great, some celebrity tits, too! Er, no. Once again we have an annoying tease of a film that is tit shy. Apparently the film is ‘artistic’ enough to have people say outrageous words like ‘fuck’ and it’s daring enough to show arse, but tits are beyond the pale. Grrr. Just show us your breasts, Portman. Stop fucking teasing us.

But Jack’s inexplicable success with the opposite sex extends to the feature film also. No sooner is he aboard the train than he’s declaring his intention to bone an attractive Indian girl who serves drinks. With blank eyes devoid of conviction, he says that he wants her. You laugh at his pathetic optimism, but then a few scenes later he nails the woman. The scene is jarring in the ease with which Jack scores and it adds very little to the film. Oh, he’s using sex as a way to ease his crippling pain. Okay, but at least make him work a little for it. He only has to mumble a couple of words and show her his absurd facial shrubbery before he’s balls deep in her.

The other brothers are almost equally annoying. Peter (Adrien Brody), for no real discernible reason, other than the fact that he likes using pills, decides it would be a great idea to bring a poisonous snake onboard. Maybe if he were a smackhead in the Russell Brand mould, I could understand such behaviour, but Peter isn’t a junkie. He’s just a sad sack who likes to pop pills every now and again.

As expected, the whole snake bit doesn’t really go anywhere, and the payoff – when they rush out of their room and get thrown off the train – is hardly worth the effort. The snake is just there to get the brothers off the train.

The film only really succeeds when it becomes knuckleheaded. There’s an amusing bit where two of the brothers begin fighting and then Jack tells them that even though he loves them, he’s going to mace them in the face. I also like some of the childishness. Owen Wilson’s character has a helper called Brendan who is helping draw up daily itineraries. Despite this, Wilson treats the guy like dirt…which is consistently amusing. And it’s also funny, at the end, when Wilson muses that Brendan might perhaps be his friend. When the film isn’t straining to make a point or indulging in pointless quirkiness, it’s enjoyable.

But unfortunately there’s too much straining for this to be anything other than a rather painful experience. For instance, there’s a sequence when the brothers come across some locals trying to cross a river. Unfortunately an accident occurs, and even though the brothers try and help, a child drowns. The change in tone is a little jarring (although this isn’t necessarily a bad thing), but the attempts to build some meaning out of it are pitiful. What basically happens is that a child drowns, the brothers feel a little bad and then get to go to the funeral while walking ever so coolly and mournfully in slow-motion as they’re accompanied by a piece of music that Wes Anderson probably heard while shuffling through his itunes the night before filming. It’s cheap, shallow, pointless filmmaking.

The juxtaposition of the funeral with the events leading up to the funeral of the brothers’ father also feels a little wrong. When the brothers’ father died, they went their own separate ways and fell apart. But when this Indian child dies, they’re brought together. Yes, that’s what is required in order to heal wounds – we need faceless locals to bite the bullet for us to show that life is really worth living. I mean, your dad dying is just an excuse to indulge in some adolescent grief. You can pout a little, take some pills and write some bad stories. But unless you wise up, you might die like a wog – crashing against the rocks of a river without an Urban Outfitters in sight. That would be awful, wouldn’t it?

The symbolism at the end of the film is easy to interpret. We see the three brothers running towards the train and discarding their luggage so that they can get on board. You see, they’re getting rid of their old baggage. They’re making a fresh start. They’re letting go of the past. It only needed a faceless brown child to die to make everything okay.

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