The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
★ / ★★★★
As far as favorite directors go, Wes Anderson’s name is about a mile off my list. And yet whenever he releases a new picture, I always want to give him a chance because he has proven prior that he is capable of making a humanistic picture first and a moving painting second (“Rushmore,” “The Royal Tenenbaums”). But not lately.
Instead, he puts style ahead of substance and it becomes an experience not to be enjoyed but to be endured. He has the power to cast many big and talented names, but he rarely uses them in such a way that every single one is able to make a mark. He would rather utilize them as decorations and so it becomes distracting, almost like watching a ninety-minute commercial rather than a full feature film.
Case in point: When the main character of the film, Monsieur Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), concierge of the famed Grand Budapest in 1932, faces an old woman who is supposed to be his lover, instead of absorbing and processing the scene, my mind took notice of Tilda Swinton almost immediately underneath the heavy makeup. If the screenplay had been more alive by being more interested in introducing its characters in a meaningful way instead of going for the predictable Anderson wide shot designed to showcase how pretty the room looks, recognizing the performer would probably have escaped me.
The story is all over the place. Perhaps it is the director’s attempt to disguise being original when, really, the scenes are nothing but a potpourri of familiar trappings. I think he is aware of this, too. Perhaps it is the reason why he decided to adopt a story-within-a-story(-within a story) conceit. The more pretty convolutions provided, the easier it is—at least with most people—to believe that maybe what one is watching is one of a kind. Do not be fooled.
There is a death, possibly murder, relatives who come to the funeral only because they wish to know the contents of the will (Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe), a lobby boy who hopes to prove his worth (Tony Revolori), a stolen priceless work of art and the police hunt that comes afterwards (Edward Norton)… Aren’t you bored? I’m bored just typing all of that. Compound them with a very relaxed, almost lackadaisical, direction, there is a drought of suspense and excitement. There is only twee quirks and pastel palates.
Despite having a running time of just above an hour and a half, “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” makes Stanley Kubrick’s three-hour “Barry Lyndon” feel like only an hour long. These two films are comparable in that both are very beautiful even though the former is more like a children’s collage and the other is a time travel to the past. But there is a key difference. In Kubrick’s film, its protagonist is driven by a motivation we can all relate with. Gustave, on the other hand, is esoteric. Why is he interesting? His reputation for sleeping with older women? How some men consider him a queer? His bisexualism? I say none of the above. Anderson neglects to make his protagonist interesting or memorable. His eyes are on the set decor.