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Fathers and Daughters:
In Their Own Words
by Mariana Cook
(Discounted Paperback from Amazon)
. "The Darjeeling Limited"

As a filmgoer who never really got onto co-writer/director Wes Anderson's train (although I booked passage on his "A Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou" boat) I'm finally on board. And, as I hit the Anderson rails, it occurs to me that some of his followers expect more from him than what they'll find here.

For me, this is the cream of his output and, if you follow all of his travels you'll enjoy it more without expectations of some kind of transitional evolution into art nirvana. This is as good a specimen as he's likely to produce and most fans will think this variation on a theme hilarious. It also provides a very sweet time at the movies with three willfully deranged characters.

It isn't so much in the eye of the beholder as in the casting as Owen Wilson takes on the older-brother role of Francis; Adrien Brody as Peter; and Jason Schwartzman, Jack -- three actors who not only understand the Anderson tongue-in-cheek mystique but are peculiarly adapted for it.

These three have become distantly separated and somewhat estranged following the death of their father. Reassembling in Francis' "spiritual quest" and bonding exercise, they join up on the Darjeeling Ltd. in India to find Patricia, their mother (Anjelica Huston) who has exiled herself in a poor, remote quarter of the country and taken up the duties of a Mother Teresa. Francis decided it was necessary to go find her when she didn't show up for her husband's funeral.

Meanwhile, everything is colorful and not too challenging or dangerous. The last one to board is Peter who, with a rushing businessman (Bill Murray) just makes it to the railroad station in time for the two of them to run after the already departing train.

Peter just makes it; the businessman doesn't... but his business aboard wasn't that vital, anyway.

Francis is the one who has the itinerary and likes to play the dominant role. He formulates a stream of "agreements" that the other brothers more or less acquiesce to; at dinner he orders the dishes for the brothers, something they take exception to; and, when given a chance he takes Jack's passport to protect it but, really, to cut the chances of Jack abandoning the project early. Francis, meanwhile, has difficulties maintaining phone contact with his pregnant wife.

Jack puts the moves on train attendant Rita (Amara Karan) and scores a quick lay in the toilet even though her boyfriend is her boss and chief steward (Waris Ahluwalia). It's a dallience that adds to Francis' and Peter's understanding of Jack's range of behavior. During a train stop in a small town, they shop, commune with local deities, and Peter buys a very poisonous cobra snake. This gets all three in trouble with the steward and they're thrown off the train, making their way on foot.

At one point they spot three village boys trying to cross a river and drowning. Our brothers drop their baggage and dive in, saving two of the boys. The third slips away from Peter on some slick rocks and dies. Having rescued two, the brother are treated as royalty by the villagers.

Francis has an assistant in his employ, a computer nerd named Brendan (Wallace Wolodarsky) who has been trying to contact mom to let her know her brood of boys will soon be at her doorstep. When she finally writes back it's to reject the idea as badly timed in terms of her social/religious work and the events in her life. Fat chance she has of not seeing her progeny.

Anderson's sense of humor is wry and dry, witty in the extreme, which is manifest in the dialogue and scene setups. He loves the visual one or two-shot gag where you see part of the joke in the first part of the take and the payoff soon afterward. One example is when the boys are loaded on a slow moving motorcyle. They leave the frame camera right and are replaced from camera left by the team of porters carrying their luggage behind. Might not be side-splitting but a good laugh, part of the payload on this silly journey.

The look of the film is outstanding. Robert D. Yeoman's cinematography is drenched in color, which is certainly a product of what you see in the surroundings. It is also marked by an openness and intimacy that stems from wide angle, sharply detailed lensing that catches and enhances every expressive nuance of the shenaigans underway, coupled with his consistently soft, directional lighting, indoors and out. As you might guess, he's done most, if not all, of Anderson's opus of work from "Rushmore" to "Hotel Chevalier." It would not be too much to say that Yeoman's work here merits Academy attention come Oscar time.

Anderson's co-writer Roman Coppola, for those who recognize the name is, indeed, Francis Ford Coppola's son, Sofia's brother, and Schwartzman's cousin. The acting part of his career began with a roll in "The Godfather: Part II" when he was eight. Besides credit for co-writing this film, this multi-talent wonder is also one of its several producers.

Jack refers to his ex-girlfriend, who shows up in one of the briefest cameo appearances in film by Natalie Portman. She was great; gorgeous as ever.

But seriously.

Playing in an Anderson film calls for an immersion in loony, irreverent humor, which all aboard fondly and effectively sign on for. In his first time with this lot, Adrien Brody proves his acting range by seamlessly fitting in with perfect drollness and timing. As for Wilson and Schwartzman, they are the foundation blocks without whom an Anderson film wouldn't be recognized as such (unless it stars Murray).

Huston picks up on it, as well, and she delivers a strong character portrayal that, in itself, is worth the price of admission. Also excellent for her great and exotic beauty is Amara Karan whose feature debut this is. With a showcase like this, the girl's bound for a bounty of steamy parts ahead.

Anderson's ensemble, both before and behind the camera, is more like his family and, with a group like this feeding off his originalty, his films are safe and productive journeys. You can feel the spirit. All aboard.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  


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Jason Schwartzman, Adrien Brody and Owen Wilson
Brothers to the core.

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