Three estranged brothers bond and get rid of some literal and figurative baggage during a trip across India in Wes Anderson’s colorful and kinetic seriocomedy “The Darjeeling Limited.” Breaking no new ground thematically, pic comes closer to “The Royal Tenenbaums” than “The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou,” but without achieving the poignance of “Rushmore.” Inventively staged pic should satisfy the upscale, youth and cult auds Anderson has developed, though it’s unlikely to draw significantly better than his earlier work. Following its Venice and New York fest bows, Fox Searchlight item will go into limited U.S. release on Sept. 29.
India’s vibrant landscapes and varied modes of travel, in particular the confined space of the locomotive, prove extremely congenial to Anderson’s brand of visual humor and widescreen setups. Framing, choreography and physical comedy reference classic train flicks ranging from “Twentieth Century” and “A Night at the Opera” to “A Hard Day’s Night.”
After a short prologue that neatly epitomizes India’s color and chaos — and offers a cameo for Anderson regular Bill Murray — pic settles into a first-class sleeping cabin aboard the Darjeeling Limited, where the Whitman brothers have gathered. Francis ( frequent Anderson collaborator Owen Wilson), Peter (Adrien Brody) and Jack (co-scripter Jason Schwartzman) haven’t spoken since their father’s funeral one year earlier.
Clearly, the siblings all have some healing to do. Francis, the eldest, is swathed in mummy-like bandages resulting from a motorcycle accident (an image that could have unintended resonance for auds who have followed Wilson’s recent personal crises). Middle child Peter can’t come to terms with his wife’s pregnancy. And Jack, the youngest, is so obsessed with his ex-girlfriend he continually eavesdrops on her answering machine.
Armed with a supply of Indian pain relievers, the brothers play catch-up and fall into familiar family patterns. Francis tries to impose his itineraries and menu decisions, Peter flaunts their father’s possessions and implies he was the favorite child, and Jack tries to avoid their quarreling through a whirlwind affair with comely train stewardess Rita (Amara Karan).
After they’re ejected from the train for egregious rule-breaking, Francis reveals an ulterior motive behind the trip: He wants them to visit their mother (Anjelica Huston), who’s now a nun in a Himalayan convent, but she seems less than keen to see them. The convent scenes humorously establish the source of Francis’ most irritating mannerisms and pave the way for spiritual healing.
Here, as in his two prior outings, Anderson’s arch, highly artificial style gets in the way of character and emotional development, rendering pic piquant rather than profound. Despite intense perfs by Wilson and Brody, Francis and Peter come off as not particularly nice. Schwartzman and Huston fare best at humanizing their characters, while newcomer Karan makes a strong impression as the sexy “sweet lime” girl.
Script gets sibling dynamics down pat, with oft-repeated lines accumulating meaning throughout pic.
Tech credits are top-notch, with particular kudos to Mark Friedberg’s gorgeous, intricate production design and Robert Yeoman’s nimble lensing. A specially designed, numbered luggage set from Louis Vuitton plays a significant role.
Music track effectively sets the mood with selections from Indian film scores alternating with choice rock tunes.
In Venice, pic screened with a nifty 13-minute short, “Hotel Chevalier,” identified in the end credits as “Part 1 of ‘The Darjeeling Limited.’ ” Completed in 2005, pic shows Jack and his ex-girlfriend (Natalie Portman) in the titular Parisian hotel.
Short provides a potent prologue that further serves to make Jack the most sympathetic of the brothers and adds resonance to visual motifs that recur in the feature. Per Anderson, “Hotel Chevalier” will not be shown in theaters, but rather on the Internet, at festivals and on DVD.