In Which We Try to Give Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson a Break But End Up Giving Them a Hard Time

We Expect More From You, And Quite Probably More From Marc Jacobs As Well

by Alex Carnevale

The Darjeeling Limited, 91 min.

dir. Wes Anderson

“Where Do You Go To (My Lovely)” — Peter Sarstadt (mp3)

Molly and I had our first ever fight over Wes Anderson’s last film, The Life Aquatic. I was convinced that a film so strange, a movie in which the jokes hinged on a knowledge so bizarre and a loss so sad, could not possibly be bad. And I still enjoy watching The Life Aquatic. We have slammed Wes Anderson’s misogyny and racism in these pages, and for the most part rightly so, but the Criterion Collection was dead-on-balls accurate to include Wes’ every movie in their series–he’s among the most talented directors working today. If I was to classify my top five visual artists right now, in fact, they would go something like this.

5. Darren Aronofsky

4. Steve Spielberg

3. Wes Anderson

2. Roman Polanski

1. Quentin Tarantino

I’m like 5’2″ in real life, isn’t that hilar!?

You want to try to like this film, and The Darjeeling Limited sort of complies by so desperately wanting you to enjoy these characters, glorifying them in any slightly critical moment. They want you to know that they are in love with themselves, and love them for that instead of resenting their privilege.

Peter Travers:

But this is an Anderson film, meaning telling details have to be caught on the fly. Catch Peter’s wince when he reveals he’s about to become a father. Or Jack’s desperation when he hacks into his ex’s voicemails. Or Francis’ head bandages, remnants of his attempt to off himself on his motorcycle.

Yes, how subtle, massive bandages. That’s a great character detail. Travers, you are the primary resident of Stonetown.

The film opens with a neat sequence that involves Bill Murray missed the departure of the Darjeeling Limited train service, and Adrien Brody getting on the train instead. Wes is playing around with a familiar cinematic convention, to gorgeous results–the film sets up an expectation of its worldliness that its screenwriters weren’t prepared to deliver.

The film’s grasp then narrows quickly–instead of the rich, we-tried-for-too-much feel of the The Life Aquatic, Anderson seems determined to make some changes relative to the success of his last film.

Richie: I have to tell you something…
Margot: What is it?
Richie: I love you.
Margot: I love you, too.

An auteur makes movies that are of a kind. We are currently plowing our way through a five-disc Eric Rohmer box set, and he goes so far as to just basically make the same movie again and again. Anderson’s quirky, funny little mood has never been less funny, or less charmingly quirky. Owen orders meals for his younger brothers in a funny moment–the rest is a collection of intimate ironies along the lines of the superior and wacky The Royal Tenenbaums.

The smaller canvas might help those who thought The Life Aquatic went too far, but we thought it didn’t go far enough.

“Play With Fire” — The Rolling Stones (mp3)

Designer Marc Jacobs and director Wes Anderson

Marc Jacobs and da auteur.

MENTION personal style and Wes Anderson, who was chortling just a moment ago, looks like he suddenly slurped down a bad oyster. “I don’t want anyone to think I follow trends and fashion because, well, frankly. . . I just don’t,” says the director.

Anderson seems to want to find both drama and comedy in the Indian landscape. This film might be more exciting to us, or better able to escape the easy tag of cultural imperialism, if we did not all know something of what India actually is. It is a rapidly changing nation, and possibly the most important democracy in the world. It is something less than a funny set for hijinks, the last Albert Brooks movie and Jean Renoir‘s The River aside.

“Suite Bergamasque 3. Clair de Lune” — Alexis Weissenberg (mp3)

The performances are all over the place. Owen Wilson shows basically one note the entire time, while Schwartzman is given next to nothing to do, even when he is supposedly in the midst of life-changing angst. It’s a shame he couldn’t write himself a better part, instead he just wrote sex with an Indian woman.

The only time the film actually has the sneaky fun it purports to be all about is when we flashback a year earlier to three New York boys who lose their mother and their father when their father dies. It is the presence of a woman, the Brody character’s wife so fleetingly portrayed, that the film gets this energy. As in Anderson’s finest film, Rushmore, the energy to go on is derived from what you love, and in this case, who you love. You may not exactly be able to control just who that is, Max suggests with his desire for his teacher and Rushmore as a whole.

The script, by Anderson and Schwartzman and Roman Coppola, is a collection of one-line jokes about being self-involved. Cigarettes are consumed wantonly along with cough medicine. Whatever you need, you need it now.

Nice suit betch

“Les Champs Elysees” — Joe Dassin (mp3)

It is Brody who is the real star of the film. In real life of course, he seems like a vapid twat, but then, I hate actors. His more appealing qualities are emphasized–after all, I can barely look at Schwartzman since watching the abortion that is Hotel Chevalier, and Owen Wilson looks like a bag of feral cats that was tossed into a river.

Dunder Mifflin Infinity

Angela, Dwight, and Garbage.

In a forced scene in the second part of the film, the brotherly triumvirate rescues a group of boys trying to cross a small river with a strong current. There is no point in analyzing the spectacle of white people saving more primitive folk. It is like throwing a bunch of symbols–“fear of intimacy” “cultural superiority” “jewness”–and making them into magnetic poetry to shuffle around for when your jokes can’t carry the day.

Anderson writes a moving essay in the introduction to the book screenplay of his second film, Rushmore. He is determined to screen the film for dying film critic Pauline Kael; he forces her to view even the overlong third act. A success need never be particularly concerned with his critics, and even though Kael didn’t like the film, Anderson’s strength of conviction is impressive.

“Strangers” — The Kinks (mp3)

Anderson’s use of music is all too telling. At key moments, he pulls from the Kinks heavily, as though Ray Davies (and in one case Dave Davies) could provide the purpose and emotion that the scenes are lacking. These are good songs, but they mainly end up emphasizing the expressive limits of what’s happening onscreen.

That’s bad news, unless you think the point of cinema is to emphasize its inability to communicate. In The Darjeeling Limited, even the music tells us less than usual. In the end, the movie is, again, of a kind with Wes’ other films. It is informed by them quite a bit, even suggesting actors from the other films, if not characters, in an extended sequence in which other cabins on the Darjeeling Limited are exposed to us in a dramatic-irony fashion. All characters are leftovers, the scene suggests, people themselves are leftovers.

In the film’s most sincere attempt at a moving moment, Anderson’s favorite actress, Angelica Huston, tells her sons that whatever they think about the past, it’s over now. “Not for us,” Owen Wilson answers. This is a familar irony for a filmmaker who can’t get over the celebrated fashion in which he has composed his life and art.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

PREVIOUSLY ON THIS RECORDING

Flashing back to our nonfiction week.

We mourned mankind.

We celebrated our love of the sketch comedy group The State.

12 thoughts on “In Which We Try to Give Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson a Break But End Up Giving Them a Hard Time

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