The Darjeeling Limited opens with Bill Murray dressed as an old fashioned businessman riding at frantic speed in a Sikh taxi to reach his train. And then the movie begins and instead of Bill Murray, we’re forced to spend the movie with Adrien Brody, Jason Schwartzman and worst of all, Owen Wilson. And The Darjeeling Limited never recovers from that.
The Darjeeling Limited tells the story of the three Whitman brothers, each one more lacking in identifiable character traits than the other, who go on a trip to India to reconnect after the death of their father. Normally a film whose script was written by the three actors starring in it should have been filled with ways for each actor to stand out with meaty lines and revelations. The Darjeeling Limited however is a movie virtually devoid of dialogue, yet unfortunately it is not completely devoid of dialogue.
Had The Darjeeling Limited been completely without dialogue, it would have been a silent journey through a beautifully photographed India with the lush use of color of a National Geographic special and the elaborate kitschy set design that Wes Anderson has made his movies’ specialty. Unfortunately it is burdened with just enough dialogue by the three brothers to make even that impossible as each brother has just enough dialogue to make watching their Indian journey unbearable.
Owen Wilson, a standby in Anderson movies and easily the most annoying thing about The Royal Tenenbaums, gets the lion’s share of the dialogue and the characterization. This would not have been nearly as much of a disaster if Owen Wilson had not been completely miscast as a tightly wound and controlling yuppie older brother. This is tantamount to casting Cheech or Chong as General Patton. Since Owen Wilson can only really play mild laid back characters who are minor variations on Owen Wilson, we instead get a control freak as played by a mildly stoned actor who can’t even bring any heat to exchanges when he’s cursing out people over the phone. Later on we learn that he seems to get these traits from his mother, but it’s a hollow revelation with no real meaning behind it.
Adrien Brody and Jason Schwartzman meanwhile don’t play characters so much as they portray mannerisms and bits of biographical information. They have virtually no dialogue and nothing to do except tag along after their older brother. Jason Schwartzman somehow makes this work infusing Jack Whitman with the quiet energy of a pint sized Lothario while Adrien Brody flails around completely out to sea, making you wonder which of the actors really deserves that little golden statue.
Wes Anderson tries to infuse their trip through India with bits of physical comedy but they are too few and far between and these human voids fighting against the magnificent background of India gives you the impression that the Three Stooges had decided to stage a soap opera in the Louvre.
Like most Anderson movies, The Darjeeling Limited has troubled prosperous characters traveling toward some inchoate revelation that brings them to a state of being at peace with the world. The fundamental difference that makes The Darjeeling Limited into such a tedious and unrewarding journey is that it lacks that figure in Anderson movies who reflects a striving for life and the joy de vivre, Jason Schwartzman’s Max in Rushmore or Gene Hackman’s Royal Tenenbaum in The Royal Tenenbaums or at its weakest, Bill Murray in The Life Aquatic. The Darjeeling Limited has no such character ready and willing to push the boundaries of life, to dare the impossible and crash and burn and learn to fly again. Instead it has three mopey yuppie brothers wandering aimlessly through India and finally discarding their baggage in a metaphor so trite that involves them actually discarding their baggage.
Wes Anderson fills The Darjeeling Limited with color and even some cinematic energy but he cannot overcome the essentially static and uninteresting characters who are at its center. He transforms the train, The Darjeeling Limited itself, into a character and the bold cutaway during the funeral and the train dream scene that connects all the characters together is a beautiful moment but while the canvas is there, there is no one whose portrait is worth sketching in the foreground and so The Darjeeling Limited emerges as a visually beautiful but dramatically barren failure that neither the landscape of India, nor its cinematography nor any of the seemingly endless musical montages that fill the movie from beginning to end can redeem.