THE DARJEELING LIMITED directed by Wes Anderson, written by Anderson, Roman Coppola and Jason Schwartzman, with Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, Schwartzman and Anjelica Huston. A Fox Searchlight release. 91 minutes. Opens Friday (October 5). Rating: NNN
Thinking about Michael Clayton, I realized what it is I dislike about The Darjeeling Limited, the new film by Rushmore director Wes Anderson.
Though Clayton writer-director Tony Gilroy will probably never develop Anderson's exquisite camera style and sense of colour, at least he's making a movie about adults, whose actions have weight and consequences. There are no do-overs in that world.
The Darjeeling Limited, on the other hand, offers a trio of privileged, dolorous boy-men who drag themselves through life and, in this film, across India. A year after their father's death, the eldest, Francis (Owen Wilson), invites his brothers, and their symbolically freighted matched luggage, to join him on a spiritual quest.
The characters' dilemmas are improbable. Middle brother Peter (Adrien Brody) has abandoned his very pregnant partner without telling her where he's going, and youngest brother Jack (co-scenarist Jason Schwartzman) compulsively calls his ex-girlfriend's answering machine to check her messages.
Anderson has been almost fatally infected by J. D. Salinger's writing. The Royal Tenenbaums, the portrait of an eccentric and artistic family of upper-crust New Yorkers, was probably as close as he could come to Salinger's Glass family stories without violating intellectual property laws.
The three protagonists in The Darjeeling Limited are all Holden Caulfield at different ages. As Francis and Peter struggle with the eternal "Dad always liked me best," you increasingly sympathize with Jack's plaintive cry: "Stop including me."
On one level, there's nothing wrong with The Darjeeling Limited. Fans who liked The Life Aquatic With Steve Bissou, an almost unwatchably precious take on the director's favourite family themes, will like this.
In terms of artistic maturity, though, Anderson is spinning his wheels. A few years ago, Esquire asked a number of American filmmakers and critics who was positioned to become "the next Scorsese," and Martin Scorsese picked Anderson.
But by the time Scorsese had turned 38 (Anderson's age right now), he'd already made Raging Bull; Mean Streets; Taxi Driver; New York, New York; Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore and The Last Waltz.
Anderson should really do something that isn't an obvious Wes Anderson movie, perhaps a film about something that happens in the real world.
The Darjeeling Limited is beautifully designed. The set designs are like the bric-a-brac boxes constructed by the American artist Joseph Cornell. Sketches included with the DVDs for Rushmore and Tenenbaums might lead you to suspect that Anderson makes movies so he can build the sets, rather than the other way around.
His characters, alas, are trapped in adolescent angst, and I can't help but think that once you're into your 30s, you should grow up.
It's an angst of affluence, about characters who, without apparent economic repercussions, abandon their daily lives on a whim. Like Sofia Coppola, Anderson longs for a kind of upper-class indolence. You can see it in Darjeeling's magnificent 11-piece set of bags, designed by Mark Jacobs, that harkens back to a day when people stepped off the Orient Express in Istanbul with gigantic suitcases carried by servants and porters.
And, yes, the luggage - their father's, divided among the three sons - overtly symbolizes baggage of the emotional sort. When the boys shed it at the end, it's a symbolic gesture the film hasn't earned. They don't seem to have cast off their past. They're just hoping someone will pick up their bags and forward them.