**** out of *****
“The Darjeeling Limited” is about three brothers who take a train ride through India, hoping to reconcile a year after their father’s death.
However, the film was co-written and directed by Wes Anderson, one of the most unique voices in movies today, and so to describe the plot of “Darjeeling” does it little justice.
Like Anderson’s prior films, which include “Rushmore” and “The Royal Tenebaums,” the charms of “The Darjeeling Limited” lie not in the story, but in the execution.
Anderson’s films have always been stylish, and “Darjeeling” is no exception, but this film, where the comedy and sadness of the story are often inseparable, is his most mature to date.
Aside from the death of their father, the three Whitman brothers are contending with issues of their own.
Jack (Jason Schwartzman) is smarting from a break-up with his girlfriend (Natalie Portman) (which is depicted in the short film “Hotel Chevalier” that precedes the “Darjeeling”).
Peter (Adrien Brody) is thinking of leaving his pregnant wife because he isn’t sure if he loves her anymore.
And Francis (Owen Wilson), whose face is a mélange of bandages and braces, is recovering from a motorcycle accident, the true significance of which isn’t revealed until toward the end of the film.
Together these three brothers board a train called the Darjeeling Limited, seeking to experience what Francis calls “a spiritual journey,” so that they can learn to trust one another.
It all sounds like serious stuff, and indeed, the film is driven by issues like depression and familial discord. But “Darjeeling” is also filled with the deadpan humor that marked Anderson’s prior films, including a nice running gag that revolves around Francis creating laminated itineraries for their allegedly spontaneous spiritual journey.
A good chunk of “Darjeeling” consists of the Whitmans fighting and bickering with each other, but the film’s tone does a total one-eighty near the half-way point, shifting from deadpan comedy to tragedy in the course of a single scene.
For some, this shift will prove too jarring. I found it engaging. The scene in question, which I won’t spoil for you, adds resonance and poignancy to the story, and allows us to glimpse deeper into the characters.
This section of the film also features a stunning scene of the brothers, framed in one of Anderson’s trademark wide-angle shots, walking in slow motion through a village, all while The Kinks’ melancholic “Strangers” plays on the soundtrack. This scene alone is as touching and hypnotic as anything Anderson has ever filmed.
I don’t think “Darjeeling” represents the fullest flowering of Anderson’s talents-even for me, the film’s pace and humor lagged in a few parts-but the film is a marvelous concoction of melancholy and comedy that should enchant viewers with an open mind and an open heart.