Brotherly love has no limits

Joe Shearer

What could possibly go wrong when three brothers go on a trip, live in close quarters and try to get used to each other’s annoying quirks? Everything, of course! Growing up with two older brothers has made that painfully – sometimes very painfully – obvious.

Such is the premise of Wes Anderson’s latest comedy, The Darjeeling Limited, a thoughtful and funny story about three brothers who haven’t seen each other in a year embarking on a “spiritual journey” across India.

After meeting on the Darjeeling Limited, the train that will take them on much of the their adventure, Jack (Jason Schwartzman) and Peter (Adrien Brody) discover Francis (Owen Wilson) was badly hurt in a motorcycle accident. As a result, his head and face are covered in bandages most of the movie. But he’s not the only one running around with a signature look. Peter is usually sporting sunglasses, and Jack is always barefoot, no matter how nice the getup (think McCartney on the cover of Abbey Road).

You may wonder how three grown men can drop everything and visit various holy sites in India. But to ask such questions is to undermine the whole storybook atmosphere and imaginary world Anderson creates. Asking “why” isn’t nearly as important as understanding why within the parameters set up by the writer/director.

With their father dead and their mother M.I.A., Francis tells his brothers he wants to become closer after his near-death experience. He and his assistant – a man incapable of growing hair – create little, laminated itineraries each day, and Jack and Peter indifferently follow.

As one might expect, like America a few months after Sept. 11, the reunion among parties quickly goes sour in true brotherly fashion. Peter is irritated when Francis orders his food for him, while Francis is jealous Peter seems to have snagged their father’s sunglasses and other belongings. After all, those shades rightfully belong to all three brothers, don’t they?

Besides the numerous bags and suitcases they hull around, the brothers also carry their share of emotional baggage. They all have their secrets, which don’t stay secrets for long when one sibling turns around and tells the other. Peter’s wife is pregnant, causing him to have second thoughts about his marriage. Jack ran away from his now ex-girlfriend, but is confused and considering going back to her, despite his brothers’ wishes.

Natalie Portman plays the role of Jack’s ex, but blink, and you’ll miss her. To see more of her (in more ways than one) check out Anderson’s 13-minute short film, Hotel Chevalier, a free downloadable prequel available on Apple iTunes. Seeing the short isn’t necessary in understanding the rest of the film, yet it works seamlessly as an opening sequence with Peter Sarstedt’s recurring, haunting song, “Where Do You Go To (My Lovely).”

That’s one of Anderson’s strengths in all of his films, whether it’s Rushmore or The Royal Tenenbaums. He knows how to set the mood with popular music, so we feel what the characters feel. Darjeeling Limited is no different in that regard, so when the characters are sad, confused or happy, the music reassures us, and we the audience can become those people for a few short moments.

After a slight misstep with the cruder The Life Aquatic, Anderson gives us warm, innocent characters we care about and relate to, as peculiar as they are at times. And maybe that’s yet another good quality about the movie: The brothers don’t believe they’re being funny. In other comedies, we’re presented goofy people who are laughing, smiling and having a good time. These guys aren’t; they’re real people with real problems who just happen to make us really smile in the process.

For instance, take a scene where the three are supposed to be meditating. Out of nowhere, Francis stops and confronts Peter.

“Is that my belt?” Francis asks.

“Can I borrow it?” Peter responds.

“Not right now. I was looking for that.”

Francis then makes Peter give him the belt and tells him to “ask first, next time.” Wilson, co-writer of Anderson’s first three pictures, puts forth his trademark nonchalant humor, and Brody’s reactions are hilarious.

Darjeeling Limited marks the reuniting of Anderson and Schwartzman, who also co-wrote this film and starred in Rushmore. Schwartzman’s delivery can be subtle at times, but his dry wit embodies the nature of Anderson’s work. Sometimes the deadpan characters make the film feel longer than it’s 91-minute runtime, but don’t look away. Every line matters, every shot is carefully framed and if you’re not paying attention, you already missed the joke.

Contact all correspondent Joe Shearer at [email protected].