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Thursday, April 25, 2024

Judging from his films, the coming-of-age story seems to be Wes Anderson's favorite genre. At the end of every one of his films, at least one of the protagonists has arrived at some enlightened state of maturity, and this nirvana is usually acknowledged by a sentimental slow-motion shot accompanied by heartfelt music.

"The Darjeeling Limited" at first appears to be another film in this mold. We start out with three brothers on a spiritual journey through India on the eponymous train of the title. Francis (Owen Wilson) is the overbearing eldest brother who has corralled his other brothers, Peter (Adrien Brody) and Jack (Jason Schwartzman), into the journey. The three brothers haven't been in close communication since the death of their father a year ago, and they have grown apart. Before long, it is revealed that the spiritual journey is really just a subterfuge designed by Francis to get the three brothers together to track down their mother (Anjelica Huston), who has distanced herself from the family and is living as a nun in an abbey in the foothills of the Himalayas.

All three brothers are ripe for some typical Anderson-style growing up. Francis is heavily bandaged from a motorcycle accident. Peter is avoiding his impending fatherhood. Jack is running away from - but continuing to obsess over - a dysfunctional relationship. All three of them are swilling cough medicine, pain medication and alcohol throughout the movie, and the pettiness and puerility of their behavior toward each other would make a third-grader's eyes roll.

But by the end of the film, the brothers resolve their differences, accomplish some of their goals and generally end up slightly more mature than they were at the start of the film.

"The Darjeeling Limited" is Anderson's best film because it offers all the visual luster and blithe quirkiness of his previous efforts while side-stepping the flaws that detracted from the other films. His other films' characters often self-analyze aloud, solemn moments often appear out of nowhere and the cutesiness of the costumes and characters tends to cloy.

Instead, "The Darjeeling Limited" is made funnier precisely because it frustrates the audience's expectations from those previous films. We're set up to expect "The Brothers Karamazov," but we are given "Some Like it Hot."

This new-found flippancy suits Anderson's style much better than the forced seriousness of his previous films. Perhaps this improvement can be traced to Anderson's collaboration with Roman Coppola and Jason Schwartzman on the script. Perhaps Anderson simply wanted to try his hand at pure comedy. Or perhaps the real protagonist who has arrived at an incipient maturity in this film is Anderson himself.

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