Film/TV » Film Features

Anderson rebounds with melancholy Tenenbaums coda.

by

comment

As a practice, film criticism tends to imply objectivity gleaned from exposure to lots and lots of movies. But, the truth is that some filmmakers just hit you where you live. As a kid, about the only thing I obsessed over more than my baseball-card collection was the comic strip Bloom County, and filmmaker Wes Anderson's best work reflects the sensibility of that strip like nothing else. The combination of near-utopian, intergenerational (if not interspecies) generosity, wry humor, and cultural obsessiveness that fuels Anderson's work reminds me not only of the strip itself, but also of the experience of being a kid reading it.

And even though many of Anderson's characters seem to come from old-money families that allow for leisure time and the accumulation of fascinating possessions without doing any apparent work, Anderson's films also court my class-consciousness.

What is often missed about Anderson's enthusiasm for the cultural touchstones of an upper-crust, über-educated upbringing — and what his best film, Rushmore, makes totally explicit — is how much the fascination is rooted in an outsider's longing and romanticism: that of Rushmore's Max Fischer, the precocious barber's son, rising above his cultural station in pursuit of artistic and educational stimulation.

I feel so much affection for Anderson's work generally — in large part for the affection his films generate — that I'm prone to give his considerable quirks plenty of leeway. But, even then, I didn't much like his last film, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.

Anderson's new film, The Darjeeling Limited, is a rebound — albeit a slight one. Stylistically, it's his most rambling, spontaneous-feeling work since his feature debut, Bottle Rocket, while, thematically and emotionally, it comes across as a companion piece to his family drama The Royal Tenenbaums. It's a tale of three brothers — Francis (Owen Wilson), Peter (Adrien Brody), and Jack (Jason Schwartzman) Whitman — who embark on a train trip through India shortly after the death of their father. All three brothers are dealing with their own personal crises: Francis is wearing bandages around his head, the provenance of which is gradually revealed; Peter is struggling with conflicted feelings about his impending fatherhood; and Jack is dealing with a recent romantic dissolution. That the key prop in this scenario is the lavishly designed hand-me-down "baggage" the brothers share on the trip is indicative that Anderson's symbolism is more than a little heavy-handed this time out.

If you think this basic set-up — the balancing of siblings' personal and interpersonal problems with shared issues over their late father — suggests an unresolved coda to The Royal Tenenbaums, just wait until the mother pops up.

But if this is a rehash, it's one that mostly works. The titular train that serves as the setting for much of the early part of the film — a rickety old locomotive with shabby but colorful cars — is a great Anderson location, though its meticulously designed bric-a-brac doesn't carry as much character information or have as much emotional resonance as the spaces in his other films. And Brody makes a fitting new addition to the Anderson company, the director making great use of Brody's long-limbed physicality, whether he's rushing to catch the train or making a yoga-esque bid for mountaintop enlightenment.

The Darjeeling Limited

Opening Friday, October 26th

Malco Cordova and Studio on the Square

Keep the Flyer Free!

Always independent, always free (never a paywall),
the Memphis Flyer is your source for the best in local news and information.

Now we want to expand and enhance our work.
That's why we're asking you to join us as a Frequent Flyer member.

You'll get membership perks (find out more about those here) and help us continue to deliver the independent journalism you've come to expect.


Add a comment