A year ago, I'd never have imagined getting worked into a lather over a movie having a later release date in the Tri-Cities than elsewhere in the country.
For one thing, I was living in Idaho, so the ins and outs of theatrical releases in the Columbia Basin weren't my No. 1 worry. I was somewhat more concerned with learning how not to die of cold that December when it didn't get above freezing for three straight weeks and all the locks on my car stopped working than the cosmic unfairness of having to wait a month more than those jerks in NY/LA to see the new Wes Anderson movie. I was more wrapped up in my ongoing confusion over the fact it was called "the Gem State" when the only things shiny and gleaming from Coeur d'Alene to Boise were the lumps of chewing tobacco in the gutters than I was worried about having to consciously avoid reading my favorite reviewers until a movie finally hits our not-so-small town.
Yet, now it drives me nuts. I checked the Friday listings for "The Darjeeling Limited" for four straight weeks and my blood boiled every time it wasn't there. The thought the Coen Brothers' upcoming "No Country for Old Men" might not actually open here Nov. 9 is killing me with an insomnia that has me pacing the house till 4 a.m. and staring at my roommate while he sleeps.
I do that anyway, because I'm certain he's going to talk in his dreams one night about where he buried the life insurance money for our hamster that recently died under suspicious circumstances, but I'm beginning to think it's not entirely healthy. Thank goodness "The Darjeeling Limited" showed up this weekend, quelling my anxiety and thrusting me back into my normal late-night schedule of watching "Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2" and being so shocked by its criminal badness I then watched its director commentary, followed by a brisk bout of attempted suicide.
In Wes Anderson's latest, Owen Wilson and his brothers Jason Schwartzman and Adrien Brody haven't spoken in the year since the funeral of their father. Wilson, still bearing the bruises and bandages from a car wreck in which he technically died, flies the two out for a train ride across India, a spiritual journey intended to straighten out their drifting lives.
The trip rarely follows Wilson's carefully orchestrated itinerary, in either the train's unpredictable stops or his attempts to put things back together with his depressed and self-medicating brothers. Kicked off the train for brawling, smuggling deadly cobras aboard, and inappropriate relations with a porter, the three are left to find themselves in a country they know nothing about.
The problem with being a director as unique and immediately recognizable as Anderson is that it becomes paradoxically easier to dismiss him. Once you've seen one touching, funny, perfectly framed movie about sorrowful people searching for past glories and relationships set to a soundtrack so great it would make Tarantino himself weep tears of bitter jealousy, it feels like you've seen them all.
"The Darjeeling Limited" is all those things and finds a lot of fraternal warmth and lively absurdity between its three leads, but with the exception of Schwartzman, whose situation is explored in a short film before the main feature, it's hard to connect with what exactly has got them all so down. It's got a scattering of moving scenes -- including an Indian funeral that's caught flak for being too detached or too exploitive; I found it understated and quietly effective -- but lacking a firm handle on its characters' problems, it lacks some of the emotion it's shooting for, too.
Still, for a movie that (like all road trips) occasionally feels adrift, it manages a sense of discovery in a land its characters don't know nearly so well as they think they do. Unexceptional by Anderson's own high standards, "The Darjeeling Limited" is funny enough and uplifting enough to overcome the nagging sense it could have been a good deal better.