If Wes Andersen ever decides to treat his characters with the same loving attention he treats his props, he will make better movies. Oh the tschotchkes in this movie! It’s like a long, loving J. Peterman catalogue commercial. If only the people in front of and carting around all of these delectable objects were as intriguing as the objects themselves. Especially those being carted around — the fabulous numbered matching set of luggage brought along on this journey is more compelling than the people carrying it.
That would be the three estranged brothers who inherited the baggage, both metaphorical and literal. The journey is organized by Francis (Owen Wilson, with his head elaborately bandaged through most of the movie), who has brought along an aide with a printer and a laminating machine to hand tuck daily itineraries under the door of the title train’s compartment. Francis has invited Peter (stork-legged Adrien Brody) and Jack (Jason Schwartzman) to take the train ride with him after a year apart following their father’s funeral.
It is beautiful to look at and there are some intriguing developments. But they are encrusted with precious quirkiness and ironic air quotes that get in the way. Casual cruelty and cool reactions to tragedy attempt fall short of insight. Too much goes on around the edges and too little goes on in the center of the screen.
There are brief moments that show what Anderson is capable of. A pan through the train cars, reminiscent of Joan Crawford’s dazzling vision in “Possessed,” makes us want to see the movie that sensibility is capable of.
Parents should know that the movie has some mature material, including very strong language, sexual references and situations, nudity (in the companion film), drinking, smoking, substance abuse, discussions of suicide, and tense and unhappy family confrontations.