Hey everyone! This week, we feature a new pair of guest writers who you will start to see more often. They’ll tackle Wes Anderson’s latest masterpiece, The Grand Budapest Hotel, starring Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, Adrian Brody, and F. Murray Abraham. It is rated R for language, some sexual content, and violence.
The Grand Budapest Hotel follows the adventures of Gustave H (Fiennes), a concierge at at a famous European hotel, and Zero Moustafa (Revolori), a lobby boy who becomes Gustave’s confident and close friend. The story revolves around the theft of a valuable, priceless painting and the battle for a family fortune, all while displaying the continually changing climate of between-war Europe.
7.5 out of 10
In 7th grade I spent a night cocooned in bed, colorful earbuds hastily shoved in, watching The Royal Tenebaums on Youtube and praying my parents wouldn’t come into my room and tell me to turn it off. I was transfixed. Since then, I’ve often cited Wes Anderson as one of my favorite directors and that admiration ended up beginning several of my most prized friendships. Needless to say, I was excited about The Grand Budapest Hotel. Back in October I watched the trailer the day it came out and talked about the film in at least 20 different conversations until it was released. Unfortunately, despite (or maybe because of) my high expectations, when I eventually walked out of the theater a couple weeks ago, I felt a bit empty and disillusioned.
To give credit where credit is due, the film was everything viewers look forward to from Wes Anderson. The production design was superb. From baby pink square boxes tied with ribbons and filled with toppling pastries, to the contrast of the candy purple uniforms in the electric red hotel, to the absurdly adorable funicular, it was all perfect and clearly meticulously planned. The humor was right on key. In one scene Zero, the film’s main character, attempts to show off his poetry skills to his mentor, M. Gustave H while in the middle of a jail break. There are witty lines slipped in throughout the film—the fabulous type that if you aren’t careful you might just miss, but if you catch it you’ll be repeating to your friends for years. However, most likely due to Wes Anderson’s ironically huge appeal as a “less know” “artistic” director that people like to brag about appreciating, the Will Ferrel-movie level of laugher in the theater ruined some of the subtly.
Despite the similarity in many regards to most of his previous work, I was excited by a couple of new ideas Wes Anderson explored in The Grand Budapest Hotel. Although I’d categorize it as a light hearted film, good for a date or family gathering, there was a ridiculous amount of death. At least seven characters with names and purposes are killed by the end, as well as five other men who pop on screen briefly, and one very fuzzy cat. In typical Wes Anderson style, none of the serious, worldly conflict is taken in the least bit seriously, and I really enjoyed that. Take it how you will, but there was something giddy-worthy about the heaviness of death being casually tossed out the window. Wes Anderson constantly reminds us not to take him seriously and therein lies the charm.
He also plays with age and time in a new and different way. The beginning and the end of the movie take place several years after the majority of the film. Many of the most vivid and exciting characters die before this later, dreary time, and so they are preserved in the excitement and beauty of the magical sub-reality. Delicate layers of age and time are created in the movie in that it starts with a girl reading a book, the author of the book is an old man, the old man was once a young man who went to a hotel, at the hotel he met an old man who was also once young, and once upon a time, when that old man was young, he had an adventure. In this way a depth is created that makes the story feel a bit like a family heirloom.
And yet, as I’ve said, I didn’t love it, which for a long time confused even me. I believe the reason is that I felt there was very little real substance to the film. There was no real emotional impact, no powerful message or intense provocation. Even the storyline was a bit hard to follow and twisted to the point of meaninglessness. One could argue that this type of story is part of Wes Anderson’s charm, and I did appreciate many aspects of this film, but, to me, you can’t wrap a pointless screenplay in a pretty pastry box and ship it out as a masterpiece.
4 out of 10
It is a common criticism levied at some modern films that a film’s trailer is more satisfying than the film itself. Generally this criticism tends to apply to lowbrow action or cheap comedy films, rather than the work of arguably one of the greatest directors of this generation. But in The Grand Budapest Hotel I believe I have found such an odd case. The trailer is sublime: it provides considerable laughs in only two minutes while hinting at a darker and intriguing side to the film. Most importantly of all, it is imbued with the striking visual style so commonly found in Anderson’s films. The world of The Grand Budapest Hotel’s style bears more resemblance to a pastry shop than to the actual world: completely filled with bright, fluffy colors. It is hardly necessary to say the trailer had me salivating for the full package.
Sadly though, what was so appealing for a little more than two minutes became tiresome after an hour. The only experience I can liken how I felt watching this movie to is a particularly misguided tasting menu I once unwisely sat through. Each course has some merit to it but they all leave you with the expectation of something richer, more exciting, more substantial to come. And though each of the ten courses seems to be teasing its arrival, the substance never actually arrives. Anderson takes on a similar journey in this movie as he guides us from beautiful scene to beautiful scene without ever giving the viewer what they want: some narrative of consequence to chew on.
My other primary qualm with the movie is the casting. There have been few movies in the past few years or indeed ever with as accomplished a cast as this one. This may lead you to believe it is a good cast but it is not. Anderson seems to have managed the in some ways quite admirable task of bringing together almost ten truly class-A actors and not getting a single fantastic performance out of any of them. Ralph Fiennes is arguably the greatest disappointment. Fiennes is such an accomplished actor and has inhabited so many classic roles that it took me more than a week of reflection following seeing the movie to realize that really he is not all that suited to the role. This sad miscast mars any of the humor his character may have provided. One reprieve from the mediocrity is Tilda Swinton who does a wonderful job as a manic client of the hotel though her appearance is far too short to provide much comfort.
Quirkiness is rarely a bad thing in movies. In fact it is this movie’s quirkiness that makes it watchable at all. But quirkiness is not an excuse for a movie devoid of much plot or meaning. A good example is the quite casual deaths of almost the main characters in the film. Quirky? Yes. Containing any more emotional depth or nuance than the exaggerated collapse of Juliet in a middle school production of Romeo and Juliet? Sadly not. This movie begs the question of whether Anderson will ever discover the form on which he was able to combine quirk in substance in a ratio that does not leave one dissatisfied and hungry for the next course.
Rotten Tomatoes: 92%