Typical of this filmic DNA is the fact that the film proper is preceded by a 12 minute short film, Hotel Chevalier, involving the character Jack Whitman (Jason Schwartzman), a failed short story writer and rich bon vivant, visited in his posh Parisian hotel room by his former lover, an unnamed woman played by Natalie Portman. Basically, the whole setup is a throwaway that has the barest passing reference to the film proper, but does have the added benefit of having the lovely Miss Portman strip down nude for a sexual encounter with Jack, who, curiously, remains Puritanically clothed.
Simply put, there is no reason for the short film, which does not stand alone, narratively, symbolically, metaphorically, nor even comically. Not that I’m complaining about having the nude Portman’s assets on display, but once they are revealed, the short film ends with the couple in awe of the Parisian evening. In the commentary for the short film, provided by director Anderson, he claims that the film somehow reveals depths to the character of Jack Whitman that will bear fruit in the main film. Here is where the critic must sigh, ‘Alas, tis not so!’
The short's events play only a minor role in the 90-minute main film, although, in the commentary for both Hotel Chevalier and The Darjeeling Limited, the director tries to impute some deeper connection. The main film is clearly trying to evoke the mood of the old Hope-Crosby Road films and fails at that. Not that it’s a bad film; it’s not. It’s just mediocre.
There are a few genuinely funny moments, but the characters are paper thin, and depth is supposed to be seen in odd moments such as the aborted rescue of an expensive car from a fancy German auto repair shop, and a visit taken by the three idle rich Whitman brothers - Jack, Peter (Adrien Brody), and Francis (Owen Wilson) during their Indian excursion, to visit their hedonist-cum-nun mother, Patricia (Anjelica Huston) in the foothills of the Himalayas.
The first half of the film follows the idiotic brothers, one-dimensional caricatures whose self conscious ‘quirkiness’ is their (and the film’s) raison d’etre on their ‘quest’ for spirituality; something Francis arranges after an automobile accident leaves him bandaged throughout most of the film. The brothers have many quirks ostensibly made to endear them to viewers, but which have the opposite effect. Jack writes short stories based upon his life but denies they are based on real events; Peter frets and worries over his pregnant wife, Alice (Camilla Rutherford), who is not on the trip; and Francis obsessively tries to plan everything to the last detail (a trait we later learn his mother shares). He takes along his personal valet, Brendan (Wallace Wolodarsky), who suffers from alopecia (hair loss), for which he is made the object of derision until he resigns, leaving the brothers up the proverbial fecal creek.