Wes Anderson films come with certain expectations from fans and detractors alike. Anderson has established a reputation as the most eccentric and quirky filmmaker out there, so much so that "quirky" has become redundant in describing his films. Whether you find his films delightful or overly precious is up to personal taste, but it cannot be denied that over a decade of making these films, Anderson and his team of recurring actors and writers have refined this formula and made it theirs. The result is crystallized in his latest and perhaps most enjoyable film so far, The Darjeeling Limited.
Following in the Anderson-ian tradition, The Darjeeling Limited is a meandering tale, this time of an estranged trio of brothers travelling across India. However, what this film improves upon is convincing the audience to meander straight along with these people. The film is warmer and more charming than previous Anderson projects, but without sacrificing any of the odd comedic tics that seem to have distanced people before.
This can be attributed entirely to the portrayal of the brotherly bond, which is the usual brand of dysfunctional and peculiar but at the same time extremely relatable. In fact, the entire movie can be seen as a celebration of the involuntary sibling bond. The Whitman brothers, Francis (Owen Wilson), Peter (Adrian Brody) and Jack (Jason Schwartzman) are people we actually grow to care about, maybe because the brotherly dynamic they rediscover and that drives the film is comical, endearing, yet real amidst all the eccentricities. All three actors bring this across with beautifully in-tune and nuanced performances. We see the secrets they keep, their rivalries, and their convoluted alliances, all of which make for some inspired and absurd comic bits. But with recurring hints about how they haven't gotten over their father's death, the revelation that their journey across India will end at a mission to confront their now-nun mother (Anjelica Huston) about her absence at said father's funeral. Not to mention their personal problems ranging from attempted suicide, a bad break up and a potential divorce, the film subtly showcases the importance of the brotherly bond in attempting to exorcise these things and the end result is surprisingly touching.
One of the key attractions of the film, the setting in India, is also treated well in this film. Francis Whitman all too preciously summarizes the trip to be "a spiritual journey" with his laminated itineraries, but it is far from the touristy India we can envisage with that generic description encapsulated by Francis. India is very much just there, not exoticized and foreign. It is an inexplicably seamless fit with the story and gives Anderson room to run with his famously brightly lit and visually stimulating scenes.
By the end, it can be forgotten that the story is kind of pointless and meandering. Who cares when the journey is so enjoyable? With its subtle and dark humor and yet warmth and whimsy, The Darjeeling Limited is an extremely memorable film that will unsettle and charm you at the same time.