Wes Anderson devotees have to wait an average of three years between films to see how their belovedly geeky writer-director will next deliver his preternaturally curious vision. While Anderson uses the time to fastidiously research his forthcoming film, his loyalists spend it giddily dissecting his existing oeuvre—Bottle Rocket, Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums—and all the idiosyncratic touches that define a Wes Anderson production. His last project, The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, premiered in 2004, which puts his latest enterprise, The Darjeeling Limited, right on schedule.
It depicts yet another of Anderson’s meticulously stylized worlds populated by hipster-chic misfits with endearing quirks while featuring sly homage to his favorite films, in this case music borrowed from Merchant Ivory’s The Householder and general references to Bombay Talkie. Last year he appeared as the subject of a self-directed “American Express: My Life. My Card” commercial; as with most of his projects, it left those who got it—a witty ode to Truffaut’s Day for Night—with a heady case of film-nerd euphoria and those who didn’t with a feeling of being hopelessly uncool.
Then there’s the matter of Anderson’s personal look. His hip but unflattering suits—custom-made by Vahram Mateosian, a tailor at Mr. Ned in New York, and worn with Wallabees—could easily have been plucked from any of his films. When asked about it, however, he demurs, saying, “I’m no expert on any of that stuff. What I want to do is movies, so I hate to sound like some kind of fashion plate.”
But there’s no playing down onscreen aesthetics. Big, visual storytelling is Anderson’s thing. And true to form, The Darjeeling Limited, the story of three brothers (Owen Wilson; Adrien Brody; and Jason Schwartzman, who cowrote the script with Anderson and Roman Coppola) reconnecting on a train ride through India, engages the audience with a vigorous pastiche of stylistic effects, none of them accidental. “There’s no one more committed to his own vision,” says Mark Friedberg, production designer on the film, as on The Life Aquatic, whom Anderson charged with realizing a giant Formica boat and a retrofitted Indian passenger train. “We work on every detail, down to the letterhead that notes are written on. There’s very little in Wes’s world that just happens.” Among the fruits of such studied labor are railway cars lined with vibrant graphic wallpaper and upholstery; Marc Jacobs men’s suits customized with pocket flaps and back belts; and a stunning 11-piece luggage set emblazoned with colorful animals drawn by Anderson’s younger brother, Eric. Anderson enlisted Marc Jacobs for Louis Vuitton to make the luggage because, he says, “I guess they make the best suitcases.” Critics charge that such perfectly painted details can distract from the story. Fans delight in the distinctive imprint. After all, the mind capable of imagining Gwyneth Paltrow as a Birkin bag–carrying depressive is an inspired one that’s impossible to ignore. To wit, at a recent press screening, the first question lobbed to the studio publicist was “Who made the luggage?”