Tuesday, September 18, 2007



Jason Schwartzman, Adrien Brody, and Owen Wilson
Photo: James Hamilton

Wes Anderson
's The Darjeeling Limited is the opening night film of this year's New York Film Festival (NYFF).

Wes Anderson is famous for movies about dysfunctional families. In the past, I've disliked several of his movies. His characters were too odd and, for me, not funny.

The Darjeeling Limited will infuriate some, bore others. I liked it, almost all of it, all the way through.

Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, and Jason Schwartzman play deeply disturbed brothers. Owen (seemingly the oldest) has gotten his brothers to join him on his version of a spiritual quest to India. Anjelica Huston, in a strong cameo performance, plays their mother.

I don't know how people who have a serious love for India, or have been on a sincere quest for self-healing will feel about this film; it was constructed as a somewhat screwy comedy about people who seem to be so self-absorbed (but not self-aware) that they are completely oblivious to most (but not all!) the reality of their environment as it is perceived by the people who actually live there, written by people to whom that environment is almost completely alien.

The plotting is casual, with the motivation for the brothers' journey sometimes as unfocused as the brothers' own mode of thought.

Owen's character: disturbed, drug swilling, and suicidal bears a freaky resemblance to what the public (or at least this member of the public) knows (or thinks he has heard) of Owen through the media. The press conference with the director and members of the cast -- if they get asked about these parallels and they answer -- could be quite freaky as well.

The exotic locations make for visually splendor; the quirky behavior of the brothers -- and others they meet -- is genuinely comic. The film is also at moments sad, sometimes heartless, frequently surprising, occasionally exciting, and often insightful. It can ignite conversations about healing, family dynamics, self-awareness, and the causes and cures (if any) of dysfunctional behavior.

Unfortunately, there is one moment toward the end, when the film seems to adapt a Hollywood moment (and everyone seems to "grow" -- like they teach in high school English), which is out of character with the rest of the film.

The main feature is preceded by a short, a kind of prequel to the movie, with behavior that is enigmatic, kind of fascinating, and seemingly more serious than the film that follows.

This is a fine choice for opening night. It is exotic, American and yet alien, well constructed and beautifully shot, imaginatively written, acted, and directed, yet sometimes too much in search of the next part of the story, thoughtful, even thought provoking, emotional, and possibly appreciated most by a somewhat specialized audience. It is, therefore, perhaps, an ironic, self-referential introduction to a film festival that sometimes is just the same.

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