February 27, 2008 -- Writer-director Wes Anderson's films (“Rushmore,” “The Royal Tenenbaums” and “The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou”) have always featured a wry, bittersweet sort of comedy and this film is more of the same, with a bit of drama and tragedy thrown in for good measure. The film's plot is as aimless as the haphazard travel arrangements of its main characters. It eventually goes somewhere, but I'm not sure where. It is a pleasant enough trip for the most part.
Three brothers, Francis Whitman (Owen Wilson of “Night at the Museum”), Jack Whitman (Jason Schwartzman of “Rushmore”) and Peter Whitman (Adrien Brody of “King Kong”) all set off on a spiritual journey in India. The trip, the brainchild of Francis, is to try to get the three brothers to reconnect and become brothers like they were when they were young. Instead, they start bickering and fighting on their long train trip. Francis, badly injured in a recent accident (reminiscent of his real-life reported suicide attempt) seems to be in charge of the trip. When he finds out that Jack has purchased an extra ticket of his own in case he wants to leave early, Francis confiscates the ticket and Jack's passport. Peter seems to be the most normal of the three, but even he has emotional problems related to his brothers and parents. Jack has been holed up in a hotel for a year, broken-hearted over his ex-girlfriend, played by Natalie Portman, who finally visits just before the trip.
After a few days on the trip, Francis finally reveals the real reason for the trip. He plans to visit his mother, who now calls herself Sister Patricia Whitman (Anjelica Huston of “Material Girls”). She is living as a nun in a remote nunnery in India, having abandoned her family long ago. Both Jack and Peter say they would not have gone along on this trip if they had known its true destination. Somewhere along the way, however, Jack and Peter become intrigued by meeting their long lost mother. There are personal issues that are still unresolved. It appears that Sister Patricia Whitman is a fine person, dedicated to helping the downtrodden people of India, but she can't spare any time or empathy for her own children. It is also revealed in flashbacks that the three brothers have unfinished emotional business concerning their father's death.
Nothing is fully resolved by the trip, which includes a real tragedy, but it seems the brothers haven't just traveled a long way for nothing. They have traveled a considerable emotional distance. They are acting less like strangers and more like brothers near the end of their journey. They have not regressed to their childhood and become the brothers of their youth. They have journeyed ahead on that long road to manhood, a journey that has become less lonely. This film rates a C+.
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