Comfortable and Furious



My hatred for Wes Anderson is well-documented, and likely a broken record for anyone who is even remotely familiar with this website. And surely you know all the words and phrases I have used, and will likely use again, when discussing his career: twee, self-conscious, self-referential, labored, pretentious, mannered, quirky, obnoxious, narcissistic, and above all, unbearably precious. I could say it all again here — and be unfailingly accurate, mind you — but instead, I must regrettably inform you that Mr. Anderson has decided that pushing mature, civilized filmgoers to the brink of madness was not enough. Now, at last, he’s gone too far. With The Darjeeling Limited, his latest foray into a world no one could ever hope to recognize, he has become, dare I say it, boring. Shockingly, as I sat there for the longest 91 minutes of the past dozen years, I was never angry, and my blood stayed defiantly un-boiled. I did not shake my fist, or wipe my brow, or even mutter profanities under my heaving, hot breath. My heart rate remained slow and easy, the hives remained at bay, and at no time did I even care to think about Mr. Anderson in an advanced state of decomposition.

Instead, I kind of felt sorry for the guy. It’s not easy being a parody of oneself, especially this early, and after using slo-motion ten to fifteen times per release (along with nostalgic cuts from his favorite records), or using the same company of actors (including the reliably nauseating Owen Wilson), or insisting on assigning each and every character an implausible quirk that might pass muster in a mental institution, he’s bound to run out of ideas. Perhaps he realized that overkill would set him back with the critics who have fawned over previous works, or endanger his standing with college kids and budding film students, and for once in his cinematic life, he decided to pull back. Unfortunately, he’s pulled back so much that he forgot to tell a fucking story. Or people his dirty, wretched landscapes with characters other than one-dimensional cartoons. Or do anything he hasn’t done before (and to death), only with a decided lack of emotion, concern, or sense of wonder. It’s as if he were contractually obligated to release this heartless wisp, and left the camera running while he attended to other matters. In more ways than one, it’s the laziest, flimsiest excuse for a motion picture in years; a punishing, repetitive slog through the dying farts of sheer, bloated arrogance. I’m not sure Anderson could have shown more contempt for the audience had he filmed his afternoon nap.


As usual, Anderson is concerned about family matters, unwisely believing that these three brothers, none of whom really like each other all that much, are enough to sustain a feature-length motion picture. Owen Wilson is Francis, and it’s his job to wear a ridiculous contraption on his head (he tried to commit suicide — unfortunately failing in art as in life), insisting that everyone follow a laminated itinerary provided by his alopecia-afflicted assistant as they ride a train through the wasteland of India. If that sentence isn’t enough to send you reeling, let’s introduce Jack (Jason Schwartzman), an inexplicably “alluring” dope sporting a moustache at least two decades out of date, who also, by virtue of a stolen password, obsessively checks his ex-girlfriend’s voice mail. You know, like we all do. It’s important to note that Schwartzman, for no reason save an obvious clause in his contract that requires at least one scene meant to take attention away from his status as an obscenely ugly midget, fucks the hot Indian babe (Amara Karan) who serves refreshments on board, because it might pass that a sweet piece of ass would accept the advances of a 5’6” Ringo Starr look-alike with absolutely no self-confidence. And then there’s Peter (Adrien Brody, still locked in his Karen Carpenter phase), who keeps wearing Francis’ $6,000 belt, and seems to be on the trip because he’s scared shitless of becoming a father. This is pure speculation, however, since Brody’s facial expression never changes, even when the poisonous snake he purchased while touring India’s streets escapes its box and slithers throughout their compartment.

Most of the film, in complete defiance of the rules of entertainment, consists of little more than these three men talking endlessly (and annoyingly) in confined spaces, while smoking out the window, ordering snacks, or going over that blasted itinerary. Francis feels guilty about the strained relations between the brothers, so he wants to make sure that they visit all the sites, especially those with a spiritual bent. This might mean something in another movie, but here, is nothing more than an excuse to show these goofy white men with hands clasped together like the Mahatma. They get to wear crazy robes, apply a bindi or two, and pause for a shoeshine so that Francis can have a shoe stolen (not both, of course, but a single shoe) and walk around the rest of the movie with a loafer on one foot, and a slipper on the other. One of their wacky adventures even leads to an unexpected brush with death, as the trio witness some kids drowning in a river. Without hesitation, they jump in to save the youngsters, but Peter’s attempt leaves a young boy battered on the rocks. It’s not the least bit affecting, likely because Anderson doesn’t inject a single drop of an emotion into it, and since it’s India, dead bodies continuously wash up on assorted shores day and night with little notice. The brothers hang out in this isolated village, attend the funeral, and observe the burial rites, doing most of it in the usual slo-mo. It makes the minutes pass like hours, of course, but it helps convince dippy acolytes that they’re in the presence of an artist. At some point, though, talent takes a chance or two.


So why the hell are these brothers in India, anyway? I’d like to announce a grand vision, a larger commentary, or even a play on the great Satyajit Ray, but all we’re left with is the oft-told tale of children seeking a lost parent. Or, in this case, one who doesn’t want to be found. That parent — the mother — is played by Anjelica Huston, who is looking more and more like father John as she stumbles down life’s highway. Mama has decided to become a nun in some remote village in the Himalayas, and the boys want to know why she didn’t attend the funeral of their late father (who was run over by a taxi, which is so not so bad by Anderson standards, as I’d expect a herd of reindeer or something). Her appearance is so anti-climactic that by the time she finally walks into frame, I’d forgotten who in the fuck she was. Okay, I thought, a creepy mountain convent? Maybe Anderson will tip his cap to Black Narcissus or something, and we’ll spend a few moments in the presence of hot, buried lust and the substitution of Christ for cock. Hopes were quickly dashed, however, by a dull set piece and the “revelation” that mom has the same annoying habits as son Francis. And then the bitch up and disappears, and we’re left wondering why in the fuck we came all this way for nothing. That’s it? Mom’s a selfish lunatic and the boys have been paying for it all their lives? Tell me again why Anderson has been anointed Hollywood’s most trusted voice on family dynamics? It stands to reason, though, that a long, boring train ride through the globe’s largest open sewer would produce a woman as uninteresting as her children.

And that’s it. Some bold colors, a stray camel or two, numerous shots through windows, faceless Indians, and a whole bunch of goddamn sitar. The brothers chase after departed trains, Francis tries to locate a power adapter, and, during an especially pointless opening sequence, Bill Murray takes a frantic cab ride on his way to the station. The Murray appearance (along with another brief glimpse at film’s end) is vintage Anderson, and just his way of winking at the audience while preparing them for wild times that never come. In fact, there’s more excitement during Murray’s ride than the rest of the goddamn movie. I hated the dialogue, the costumes, the hairstyles, even the luggage. None of it worked, all of it grated, and had my seat not been so uncomfortable, I know for a fact I would have fallen asleep. And guess what? Siblings can’t keep secrets, even while trying to bond over sweet lime and crackers. Maybe it’s the times in which we live, or the lowered expectations, but this will have to pass as wisdom for the time being. Vishnu help us all.