The Darjeeling Limited: Rebound express

After The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, there seemed to be nowhere left for director Wes Anderson to go. The Life Aquatic, his fourth feature film, which opened in 2004, explored the same themes as his previous popular films (particularly The Royal Tenenbaums), which focus on family dynamics and relationships; Anderson also kept many of his actors, recycling Tenenbaums stars Bill Murray, Anjelica Huston, and Owen Wilson. The Life Aquatic was both a critical and commercial dud, opening with lackluster reviews and grossing only $34 million worldwide, less than the cost of production, according to www.boxofficemojo.com.

It would seem then that his fifth feature, The Darjeeling Limited, is no great departure, sharing these actors and themes along with classic Anderson images like constant smoking and slow-motion walking. But despite these similarities, Anderson’s latest effort shows him regaining some momentum. After three years of producing nothing but a gently self-mocking American Express commercial, Anderson is getting back on track with The Darjeeling Limited. The film opens with its three main characters, the Whitman brothers, meeting for the first time in a year to undergo a spiritual journey in India. Their journey, as explained by eldest brother Francis (Owen Wilson), will bring them to some sort of spiritual peace and help them fix their lives. And the brothers’ lives could use some fixing: Francis has been in a debilitating motorcycle accident that’s left him in bandages, making Wilson’s real-life suicide attempt come to mind; Peter, played by Adrien Brody, is having trouble coping with his father’s death and wife’s pregnancy; and Jack (Jason Schwartzman) is clinging to an ex-girlfriend.

The brothers travel across India on the titular train, the Darjeeling Limited, to stop at holy sites and temples, hoping to achieve some sort of spiritual self-awareness. Throughout the trip, the Whitmans argue and keep secrets from each other, unable to come forward with their problems. As they continue to live in the confined quarters of the train, the tension builds and the brothers go on bickering.

Wilson gives one of his best performances as Francis, the obnoxious and controlling oldest brother. Too often, Wilson comes across as himself and not the character — but in The Darjeeling Limited, Francis is real. The brothers are a return to Anderson’s Tenenbaums, a family resembling J.D. Salinger’s Glass siblings, leaving behind the underdeveloped relationships in The Life Aquatic. In the film, the chemistry of the three leads helps to portray a family overcoming a father’s death and mother’s abandonment.

Still, Anderson’s film is no masterpiece: Its sections are fragmented, while its quirks are too typical to be shocking or meaningful. But The Darjeeling Limited is a rebound after Anderson’s previous mess — a good sign for his future productions.

Opening before the feature film is Anderson’s short Hotel Chevalier, which follows Schwartzman’s Jack and an unnamed female friend, played by Natalie Portman. More successful than the feature, Chevalier should bring hope to any wronged Anderson fan; the short opens with Jack in a hotel room in Paris watching World War II film Stalag 17 and continues gracefully for 13 perfect minutes. It’s worth the price of a ticket just to watch the two characters interact, looking out on Jack’s symbolic view of the City of Lights.