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Wes Anderson is no longer awesome

Yo, dudes, Sean here with my first controversial post. You read that title right, Wes Anderson is no longer awesome. Last Thursday I finally got a chance to see The Darjeeling Limited at The Oriental Theatre in Milwaukee and I was totally disappointed.

SPOILERS *** SPOILERS *** SPOILERS

Okay, this isn't a review so much as a rant about why the aforementioned film is a total pile and it will contain numerous plot spoilers. If you haven't seen the film yet and like to make your own mind up, I recommend skipping this post until a later date. Also, if you unwaveringly love the work of Wes Anderson, this rant may "spoil" some of your love. If those warnings have not phased you, read on.

Hotel Chevalier
The Oriental was cool and played the little short film before the feature which was nice since I didn't download it (I hate iTunes and refuse to offer credit card information for a free download).
The short was arguably decent. It piqued my interest in the character played by Jason Schwartzman and I found the little 'ordering food in French' bit to be funny. Natalie Portman's nudity was a little gross and the hiding of the boobs was too obvious for it to seem natural. Who leans against a mantle with their ass stuck out like that? Maybe I don't have enough affairs in France to know how women stand, but it was comical in an unintended way. To be honest, it felt like all the short did was feature nudity and set up a few 'inside jokes' to play out in the feature film. Other than that, it was kind of pointless. Also, why did Jack have an iPod???


An iPod?!?! (product placement??)
C'mon, Wes, really? A large part of Wes Anderson's style from Tenenbaums on has been his use of anachronistic props and retro styles, yet here we have a freaking iPod! How much more modern can you get? A friend pointed out that at least the iPod wasn't the latest generation, which makes it sort of indie. I'm not saying that Jack has to have a Gramophone or something, but a cassette player would've worked. Of course the use of cassette player and special tape would've been too evocative of Max Fischer in Rushmore which brings me to my next point...

Recycled Jokes
Jack picking out a special song for his lover's arrival and then again for his seduction of Rita seemed like a total lift from Max's cassette tape in Rushmore. Jason Schwartzman even played that character! C'mon! Totally lazy.
And what about the scene with Francis's (Owen Wilson) tooth? Peter (Adrien Brody) gets upset and asks Francis to excuse his tooth before shocking people. To me this is just the joke of Dignan (Owen Wilson) getting upset when Anthony (Luke Wilson) mentions his stay in a mental institution in Bottle Rocket. "Some people might not be comfortable with that." Just because it's a physical injury instead of a potential mental problem doesn't mean it's a different joke-- they just changed a few facts. Not funny.
The itinerary! How is this hyper-planning any different than Dignan's "50 year plan" from Bottle Rocket? That's right, it's not. It was a hilarious subtle touch in the first film and now it's redone with a glaring overtness that nullifies any comedy. And as far as I could tell, Francis was just a total recreation of Dignan's boyish enthusiasm (but with bandages.. and scars..).

The All-too-obvious Symbolism
Whoa, the brothers get rid of the luggage at the end? The luggage they've been hauling around all film? Could this luggage be a physical representation of emotional baggage? OMG! Talk about symbolism!! Uggh, is this Film Symbolism 101? Puh-leaze... (Rolls eyes)

And Francis removes his bandages only to still have scars? "I guess it'll take more time to heal." Oh, just like the relationship between the brothers! Nice! Or not..

And the instant that little kid died it became obvious that the death would only lead to a surrogate funeral for the brothers to serve as the one they missed years earlier.
And the sad thing is that the flash-back sequence was the only genuinely interesting part of the film. I would've rather watched the story of the brothers back in New York instead of their hare-brained journey to India which made me wonder...

Why are the brothers fighting???
Seriously, what the f? Is it just because they haven't seen each other in a while? Cause that doesn't make a whole lot of sense. If you ask me, they seem pretty adventurous and brotherly in New York when they go after those bags, but who knows?
Is it because one brother hogged some belongings? Really? That's what motivates the animosity? STUPID. Maybe that could make sense if we knew ANYTHING about the father.

What's the deal with the father?
If the father was such a great dude, why did the brothers miss the funeral to chase some random luggage? And why did the guys own wife ditch the whole thing? Was it too painful?
And if the guy was an ass, why do they care so much about how they missed the funeral?
Okay, so I guess possessing his stuff is a way the brothers can remember him. But then they drop it all at the end? Oh, wait, there's a pair of sunglasses.. Aww, who cares..

SLOW MOTION.. UGGH
Aside from the line "look at those ass-holes" I didn't really laugh during the film except each time they had a slow-motion scene (which was a lot of times). Talk about an over-used effect. How pointless can you get? It's one thing when the effect is only used at the end to cap off the emotion of the film (Bottle Rocket, Rushmore), or super-sparingly like in Tenenbaums to accent the emotion of a scene (Margot gets off the bus), but to have every other scene feature a slow-motion shot is just tedious and the effect no longer evokes anything. The film was a dense 90 minutes, so maybe they felt the slow-motion shots would lengthen things a bit, or maybe just give the audience a chance to take a whiz while the characters ...s..l..o..w..l..y.. progressed on their quest. Either way, it was trash.

The Lateral Pan Shot
And what Wes Anderson film would be complete without a nice, summarizing lateral pan shot near the end to tidy up loose ends? For examples:
Rushmore: The shot after the play where there are various conversations going on at the wrap-party.
The Royal Tenenbaums: The whole side-panning shot centered around the Fire Engine. "This is spark-plug," etc.
The Life Aquatic probably had one but I can't totally remember. It did feature a neat shot with the inside of the boat on display.
And then in this film they had a rad shot where the different scenes felt like cars on the train of life. It was a rad shot, I'll admit, but my gripe is with the fact that half the cars focus on totally irrelevant characters.
Natalie Portman: She's on a bed. She's only in the short film. She has no role in the film and barely seems to be on Jack's mind... There she is.
The Old Man: Yeah, I know this dude is in every Wes Anderson film, but he didn't do anything in the film other than be there. Good thing we know he keeps reading books.
And Bill Murray's businessman: Talk about a waste of a cameo. What a tease!! I would've rather watched a movie following his businessman and all of the adventures he had in India than anything to do with the Whitman brothers. Like why was he running at the beginning? Such a waste.

In Closing
I had a ton of other complaints but it's been a while and I've forgotten some (likely an unconscious defense mechanism in my brain), but I want to reiterate how upsetting this film was for me. Wes Anderson is one of my top five favorite directors and to see him make such a weak film is distressing. It felt like a parody of all his previous work and he added nothing to his range of themes.
I saw his interview on Charlie Rose the other night and Wes even admitted to making the same film over and over and he felt it was a good decision. I disagree. I wonder how many times that Mr. Fox character will walk in slow-motion while the Kinks play...

Well, the second side of Duran Duran's Arena album is about over on my turntable and so is this post. Feel free to agree with me wholeheartedly in the comments. Dissent will be suppressed. Now, if you excuse me, I have to go look into a mirror with a sad-face and then brush my teeth and go to bed in slow motion while a Rolling Stones b-side plays on my iPod that never runs out of batteries.
Cheers.

P.S. Sorry this post lacks multimedia content. I'll endeavor to use some in the future.

P.P.S. I also heard the three brothers were based on Jack Nicholson, Francis Ford Coppola and some Peter K dude and the father represented Roger Corman who died.. blah blah blah, Roman Coppola (a writer on this film) is Francis's son.. who cares about that?

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  1. Blogger chris | 5:03 PM |  

    nice write up sean, that's probably deeper than the blogulator's gotten in a long time.

    i still have mixed feelings about darjeeling. it's hard to deny that his style and story is getting tired, but it's downright impossible to deny that his movies (even darjeeling) are still better than 90% of movies that come out nowadays. not that that absolves him from getting lazy.

    re: recycling. i was put off at first by it, but grew to love this reborn version of dignan. it seemed like a playful conscious hark back to bottle rocket, rather than being conniving and out of ideas. kind of like when the promise ring re-used the same lyrics throughout a few of their songs. almost like a continuation of dignan, which in retrospect, makes me want to watch it again and look at it that way.

    re: symbolism. i still don't quite get it, but i thought the obvious symbolism was supposed to mess with you - be meaningful and hilarious at the same time. the baggage is ridiculously highlighted throughout the movie and is cumbersome in nature, so i liked its purpose in the movie - experimenting with cliches by making them absurd and genuinely emotional at the same time.

    re: absence of backstory. this bugged me. i really didn't care about the brothers until they saved the indian kids. but once again, if you go along with the idea of this movie being a continuation for all the characters in his previous films, we know the backstory. this is the first movie where he's focusing on the actual attempt to move forward. the past movies have characters either wallowing in the past (rocket/royal) or blundering their present because of their past (rushmore/zissou). this is the first time characters are literally forgetting the past (or at least not sharing it) and trying to do something with their lives.
    funnily enough, what they're trying to do only emphasizes their (and past characters') wealthy priveleged backgrounds, because they're attempt to "do" is to "find themselves." they have yet to grow out of the kerouac mentality that simply traveling the land will solve your soul.

    the father figure has been present in all past films, so now that he's really not in this new one (and we've seen 4 times what kind of father figure we're talking about) the characters are trying to completely let go.

    i was thinking this OR we're supposed to kind of despise these guys, unlike past films, that regardless of what their father was like, they're being jerks. doesn't matter. let's move on and watch them become better people.

    thus is why darjeeling is so frustrating but at the same time still a more complex, honest, and interesting piece of filmmaking than the majority of today's cinema.

    nerd out.

  2. Blogger Brigitte | 11:23 AM |  

    i think wes anderson stopped being awesome when he made that mastercard commercial. although, that commercial might have been the best five minutes of film that year.

  3. Blogger qualler | 11:34 AM |  

    Um, like, HELLO, Brigitte? Earth to Brigitte? That was an AMERICAN EXPRESS commercial. AmEx has class. Big difference.

    By the way, that commercial was still better than Bottle Rocket. SLAMMA-JAMMA!

  4. Blogger Brigitte | 3:43 PM |  

    oh my god did i say mastercard? I AM SO FREAKING EMBARRASSED. of course it was american express-it's everywhere you want to be? wait, that's visa...

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