The Grand Budapest Hotel (Rated R, 100 minutes)
I have previously stated that I am not a Wes Anderson fan; a ton of people love The Royal Tenenbaums, Rushmore, and Moonrise Kingdom, yet I tend to believe they are average at best. But even with my negative opinion of Anderson’s films, it is important to point out that he does have a niche audience and one has to respect how he caters his films to said audience. Now even though I am not apart of this niche, I still attempted to watch his new movie with an open mind. However, its 100-minute runtime felt like four hours and, even though it is gorgeous to look at, my concerns with The Grand Budapest Hotel were ultimately realized.
Now, the plot follows the trusty lobby boy, Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori), as he befriends and helps the legendary concierge M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes). Obviously, the core of The Grand Budapest Hotel is the relationship between Zero and Gustave; but instead their relationship lacks emotional depth and the whole movie feels like an excuse to pack too many Anderson veterans into one movie. The perfect example of this is Owen Wilson as Gustave’s replacement; he is only in the film briefly and there is no distinct reason for this cameo besides a nod to Anderson’s previous work with him (Bottle Rocket, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, The Darjeeling Limited, and The Royal Tenebaums). Most of the time, a cameo adds a thematic layer or is a plot device designed to move the story forward, while other times it could be for pointless fun. The cameos in The Grand Budapest Hotel do not fit either of these descriptions; they are solely present for Wes Anderson and his adoring fans.
Furthermore, the lack of emotional connection to the main relationship results in a superficial feeling throughout; and the small amount of times where their relationship could be considered heart-warming is ruined by Gustave’s narcissistic arrogance. But in the end, it does not matter because the leads feel like a plot device designed to meet the eccentric supporting characters. Yes, this is the world of Wes Anderson and I should know it is filled with characters that are quirky for the sake of being quirky; however, the relationship between the leads, which should be at the center of the story, plays ‘second fiddle’ to the ridiculous over the top world.
Again, The Grand Budapest Hotel feels like a Wes Anderson film; his niche audience will love the dialogue, color, direction, and idiosyncrasies of this picture. However, I tend to be bored while watching an Anderson movie; while most of his films could be considered comedies, the most it will get out of me is a chuckle. And The Grand Budapest Hotel is no exception; as the older crowd was hysterically laughing, I ranged from chuckling to loathing the writing. For instance, Anderson’s symmetrically centered shots do have a great depth of field, which at times is quite amazing to look at. But sometimes what he uses to fill the frame are actors acting peculiar: Jason Schwartzman’s annoying but peculiar concierge ruins the beautiful shots of Jude Law’s Author and F. Murray Abraham’s Older Zero. Constantly, Wes Anderson’s writing and characters spoil my admiration for his camera set up or distinct color palette.
But my admiration is marred by Wes Anderson’s tropes, which further ruins some of the positive aspects of his direction. For example, while his symmetric shots are beautiful to look at, it gets old and distracting fairly quickly. Obviously, these shots take a great deal of planning, but why overuse the technique when it can be effectively used a few times. Furthermore, Anderson’s swoosh technique, or when he quickly moves the camera from angle to angle, can be off-putting and nauseating; meanwhile, this shot is a key staple of Anderson’s films. And of course The Grand Budapest Hotel uses this camera technique with dizzying effect: several scenes has the camera swooshing back and forth in one continuous shot, which is an eye-sore.
But I did not hate everything about this film; for instance, the story within the story is a fun and innovative way to start a movie. While this device has Wes Anderson’s style all over it, I actually bought into this type of storytelling: well at least at the beginning. Also, some of the characters are interesting and enjoyable to watch: even if most are boring or too strange for my taste. A perfect example is Willem Dafoe’s Jopling who is increasingly scary throughout: it was delightful to find out that this character was not the cartoonish villain seen in the trailer. In fact, Jopling is a freaky character whose lust for blood matches his loyalty to the evil Dmitri (Adrien Brody).
Furthermore, with the addition of Jopling, the movie maintains a surprisingly pleasant dark tone: it is more violent and bleaker than I thought it was going to be. And Wes Anderson perfectly uses darkness and shadows while shooting Jopling’s scenes: it adds an extra level of mystery to an already frightening character. Certain shots almost help me forget the disdain I felt throughout the entire picture: for example, Anderson did a fantastic job shooting the scene where Dmitri chases Agatha (Saoirse Ronan): the tension caused by the shot with the heart-pounding music causes a scene that could have been taken out of a Hitchcock movie.
But again, while I enjoyed these portions of The Grand Budapest Hotel, the positives are ‘few and far between.’ While the movie can be eccentric, fun, and eye pleasing, it is hindered by Anderson’s signature style: which results in it being utterly forgettable. Again, I want to stress that I am not apart of Anderson’s niche audience, and I do respect his love for his fans. Yet in my opinion, his inability to branch out from his redundant idiosyncrasies results in The Grand Budapest Hotel feeling like just another Wes Anderson misfire.