Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Less Anderson

Posted By on Tue, Nov 6, 2007 at 12:00 AM

Last night's viewing of The Darjeeling Limited left me with only an empty feeling and a rather tidy paradox: Rarely have I been more excited upon entering a film, and rarely have I been more disappointed upon exiting one.

Once upon a time, Wes Anderson was among my favorite directors. Bottle Rocket (1996) and Rushmore (1998) are, after a decade of cultish scrutiny, both still note-perfect films, and 2001's painterly The Royal Tenenbaums offers plenty of pleasures — particularly in the supreme visual flair and wicked

couples' interplay between leads Gene Hackman, Anjelica Huston, Luke Wilson and Gwyneth Paltrow — that beg for repeat viewings. But it's a fact that each of Anderson’s films has been less likable than the last. Heavy on National Geographic Bill Murrayisms but light on everything else, 2004's The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou felt like reheated sketch comedy from Anderson’s cutting-room floor. For the most part, Darjeeling just feels sketchy.

The story of three estranged brothers finding their collective soul on a never-ending train ride through India is exactly the kind of treatment that only Anderson could think (and muck) up. Within an hour, all the goodwill from that goofball premise is squandered in a mire of forced eccentricity and heavy-handed symbolism. Stranger still for an Anderson film, the last 30 minutes are downright depressing, anchored by a jarring death scene and subsequent funeral that seems completely out of place amid the overall air of detached aloofness.

Worse than Darjeeling’s third-act misfire is its overt cannibalism of superior moments from previous Anderson films. You’ll tire of the same signature slo-mo tracking shot — wielded to such great effect in Tenenbaums — well before the director tires of using it. (I counted at least four such takes.) Murray gets 30 seconds of screen time, well, just because, and there’s no mystery as to who will pop up in the cameo role of the boys’ mother — it’s Huston again, seemingly for no reason other than she looks silly as a Himalayan nun wearing Dustin Hoffman’s hairpiece.

None of this grousing would matter much if Darjeeling made you laugh, which it doesn’t, really. The script, penned by Anderson with star Jason Schwartzman, is too busy running circles around acutely parallel bits of cutesy dialogue to bother fleshing out anything of the inherently funny premise. By the final morose half-hour, it’s as if Anderson forgot he was even making a comedy. And I had forgotten what it was I used to like about his films.

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