To quote poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, "there isn’t a train I wouldn’t take, no matter where it’s going."
That includes "The Darjeeling Limited."
The latest (if hardly greatest) from quirky auteur Wes Anderson, "The Darjeeling Limited" tracks an uneasy reunion among three troubled brothers in exotic India.
And while "Darjeeling" isn’t up to the likes of "Rushmore" and "The Royal Tenenbaums" — to cite my favorite cinematic excursions to Andersonville — it’s a major rebound from the depths of 2004’s "The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou."
Like Anderson’s previous movies, "The Darjeeling Limited" concerns itself with a dysfunctional family’s sometimes fractured attempts to heal.
Also like Anderson’s other movies, "Darjeeling" meanders through its fanciful settings with all-in-good-time indulgence.
Sometimes that indulgence veers perilously close to self-indulgence. Yet Anderson’s facility for deadpan humor and the vagaries of life "five degrees removed from reality" (as he once described the world of his beguiling 1996 debut, "Bottle Rocket") make it a journey worth taking.
That doesn’t necessarily mean "The Darjeeling Limited" always knows where it’s going. But that’s not necessarily a fatal flaw — at least not for Wes Anderson fans. (And we know who we are.)
Following a droll prologue featuring Anderson regular Bill Murray as an anxious businessman trying desperately to catch the title train, "The Darjeeling Limited" settles in along with its central trio: the contentious Whitman brothers, who haven’t seen (or spoken to) each other since their father’s funeral a year ago.
The oldest, Francis (another longtime Anderson favorite, Owen Wilson) has orchestrated this "spiritual quest" to India — which is hardly surprising, because he always orchestrates everything.
As a business magnate, Francis is used to ordering people around — including his assistant Brendan (Wally Wolodarsky), who’s back in the baggage car, seeing to the Whitmans’ daily itinerary and keeping an eye on the brothers’ pyramid of custom-made Louis Vuitton luggage. (As we soon see, it’s nothing compared to the psychological baggage the brothers are hauling around.)
For starters, all is not well with Francis — as is obvious from the bandages wrapped around his head, mummy-style, protecting wounds suffered in a motorcycle crash that might have been less than accidental. (Wilson’s real-life August suicide attempt makes the sight of him swathed in bandages all the more poignant.)
His brothers’ scars, by contrast, are strictly emotional. The youngest, Jack (Jason Schwartzman, who co-wrote the script with Anderson and Roman Coppola), has just split with his girlfriend — yet checks her answering machine every chance he gets. (Anderson focuses on Jack and his girlfriend, played by Natalie Portman, in the 13-minute short "Hotel Chevalier," previously available on iTunes, that now precedes "The Darjeeling Limited" in theaters.)
As for Peter ("The Pianist" Oscar-winner Adrien Brody), the middle brother, he can’t quite come to terms with his father’s death — or, more pressingly, the imminent arrival of his first child.
Ingesting mass quantities of pharmaceuticals as their magical mystery tour gets under way, the brothers inevitably revert to customary patterns of conflict, even a world away in India. At least until circumstances — and their own battered hearts — demand otherwise.
Unlike most of Anderson’s work, this movie has no narrator to intertwine the story’s disparate strands. As a result, "Darjeeling" gets sidetracked even more than Anderson’s movies usually do, reflecting the central trio’s all-over-the-map emotional journey.
Yet while some might accuse the movie of being directionless — quite justifiably, too — its very aimlessness reflects the Whitman brothers’ precarious emotional state.
As always, Anderson’s visual wit adds a droll dimension. Longtime cinematographer Robert D. Yeoman captures India’s already otherworldly atmosphere, while production designer Mark Friedberg (in his second collaboration with Anderson, following "The Life Aquatic") contributes even more whimsical motifs, inspired more by old-time Hollywood visions of India than the real thing.
"Darjeeling’s" intrepid travelers, meanwhile, throw themselves into the proceedings with undisguised relish. Wilson tempers his customary impishness with an intriguing tension, while Schwartzman, "Rushmore’s" precocious protagonist, retains a little-boy-lost desperation. And you can almost sense Brody’s relief at finding himself, at long last, in a movie — and a role — that capitalizes on his gift for conveying contradictory emotions with deft humor.
Come to think of it, that description also applies to "The Darjeeling Limited."
If you’re someone who believes every journey — and every movie — needs a destination, then "The Darjeeling Limited" definitely derails.
But if you don’t mind more than a few detours along the way, then buy a ticket and take the ride. Just don’t be surprised if "The Darjeeling Limited" doesn’t always stay on track. With Wes Anderson at the controls, it couldn’t be any other way.CAROL CLINGMORE COLUMNS
Video Review movie: "The Darjeeling Limited" running time: 91 minutes rating: R; profanity verdict: B- now playing: Boulder, Green Valley, Orleans, South Point DEJA VIEW It’s all aboard as trains play a central role in these classic cinematic journeys: "The General" (1927) — Buster Keaton’s genius has never been more evident than in this comedy, based on a real Civil War incident, about an engineer determined to rescue his locomotive from Union spies. "Twentieth Century" (1934) — An egomaniacal movie producer (John Barrymore) and the shopgirl he made a star (Carole Lombard) do battle aboard a train in director Howard Hawks’ screwball romp. "The Lady Vanishes" (1938) — In Alfred Hitchcock’s mystery, an elderly woman’s disappearance on a train embroils a woman (Margaret Lockwood) and a music student (Michael Redgrave) in intrigue. "The Narrow Margin" (1952) — Killers try to silence a gangster’s widow (Marie Windsor), and the tough cop escorting her (Charles McGraw) to trial, in this "B" movie classic. "The Train" (1964) — A French engineer (Burt Lancaster) and his Resistance comrades try to stop a Nazi colonel (Paul Scofield) from transporting stolen art treasures back to Germany. — CAROL CLING