Darjeeling Limited is a directionless journey in the company of troubled but loveable people through strange and beautiful places. That just so happens to be the best way to describe it, both literally and figuratively. The story follows three disillusioned brothers played by Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, and Jason Schwartzman on a train ride through India, hoping to discover themselves, each other, and a sense of spiritual enlightenment. Their destination is never clear and neither is the film's. This creates something of a conundrum for the critic, because while meandering in a film is usually considered a textbook flaw, here it was the director's very intent. And while at times it can feel trying, for the most part, you're delighted to join in the beauty of the film's mostly aimless journey. So you're left with this difficult question: if the meandering nature of the movie ends up having a meaning in and of itself, and if it helps to conjure the characters' sense of confusion and wonder, is it really such a bad thing?
Don't answer yet, because the enigmas don't end there. With Darjeeling (Anderson's fifth feature film), the director has embraced and arguably perfected his trademark quirky and precious style like never before, constructing every frame out of meticulously placed ornamentation and injecting every interchange with the utmost combination of quippiness and heart. And Darjeeling is particularly confectionary, even for an Anderson movie: every person and place is painted with equal adorable oddness. It's not that he paints in broad, caricaturish strokes, but that he painstakingly creates every human and non-human element through the same peculiar fisheye, a child's perception smooshed with the complexities of adult life. This creates another conundrum for critics: does Anderson play it too safe by continuing to pursue the same precise style, or would he be selling out if he abandoned it just for the sake of his cred?
The truth is that, personal tastes aside, the quality of Darjeeling Limited as a film really can't be argued. Fans of Wes Anderson love him for his own unique take on filmmaking, and despite many imitators, he's still the only one who does it -- let alone does it well. The film may not be heavy on subtext (the brothers physically carry a heaping pile of baggage around with them throughout their adventures), but it just doesn't have to be. Again, it's that childlike perspective that Anderson employs. There's no need for the pretense of murky symbology when the film already speaks to such vital concepts as love and loneliness with guileless humor and creativity -- not to mention aching beauty. The cynic in us all may scowl at sweetness for the sake of sweetness, but is that really a valuable criticism when, in the end, it still makes us smile? There are plenty of moments in Darjeeling Limited where it seems like it should be scoffed at, but you never actually want to do the scoffing. You want to just let the film be what it is, lovingly enraptured as it breaks all the rules.