Review: The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Grand Budapest Hotel

gbh

Written & Directed by: Wes Anderson
Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, Adrien Brody, Jeff Goldblum, Saoirse Ronan, Tilda Swinton

I just don’t understand all the fuss about this movie. Or really, Wes Anderson in general. There were some great things about The Grand Budapest Hotel, mostly having to do with aesthetics, but I don’t understand the accolades it has received.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is a quirky comedy about the hotel’s notorious concierge, Gustav, played by Ralph Fiennes. The story follows Gustav and his young protege Zero between the first and second World War while the two flee from the authorities amidst a murder mystery at the hotel.

gbh6There were a few things that I really did like about this movie. Visually, it is incredibly distinctive. The production design is striking; it’s like the dial his been turned up 150% on every pigment in the frame. The costuming and set design take full advantage of that.  Everything is hyper-stylized but in a less confrontational way than Tim Burton or Baz Luhrmann usually do. In a way, it almost reminded me of a Douglas Sirk movie, except The Grand Budapest Hotel was lacking the purpose behind hits hyperstylization. When Sirk and his team designed a set and a lighting design every shadow and pigment contributed to our understanding of those characters and their relationship to their surroundings. In The Grand Budapest Hotel, it appears that these bold, oversaturated colors only serve as a distraction from a less than engaging story.

4Gustav and Zero continually evade their captors and flee to a variety of locations as the story progresses; in that respect The Grand Budapest Hotel is constantly moving. I appreciated this pace as I grew restless at one location and was eager to see where else the film could take me, if there was something that Wes Anderson could show me that was more than just a pretty image. I’m not so sure he accomplished that. The cinematography and theatrical staging made for some comical moments and great stills, but what else? Moving things along so quickly deprives the audience of building a connection between themselves and the characters. I frequently found myself asking ‘why am I supposed to care about this, again?’.

The Grand Budapest Hotel - 64th Berlin Film FestivalThe acting performances were solid across the board. I found myself moderately distracted by the constant cameos; it seems like everyone had a small piece of this movie to themselves. The cast list I mentioned at the beginning of the post just scratches the surface of people who pop in and out of this story. I found the lack of consistency in accents confusing as well, it was done so frequently that it was clearly intentional, but it’s a choice that I’m not sure I agree with. We’ve established the time period and the location in which this story takes place: yet, the flurry of accents that each different actor has is baffling.

gbh7All of that criticism aside, Ralph Fiennes is such a talented actor. I mean, his range is unbelievable. He plays Gustav with the same fervor, intensity, and slight vulnerability he brought to The English Patient. I mean, this man has played arguably the two most evil characters that have ever existed: Amon Goth in Schindler’s List and Voldemort in the Harry Potter movies; and eventually he moves on to play this eccentric, delightful character in The Grand Budapest Hotel? Brilliant. Despite all of my criticism of the story and our limited exposure to the depth of each character, Fiennes made Gustav an enjoyable presence. In supporting roles, but Jeff Goldblum and Adrian Brody were excellent, with the latter playing a cartoonish villain that absolutely demands to be laughed at.

Final Verdict: If I had the opportunity to see this in 35mm on a big screen I may have had a different reaction to it. It is whimsical and lovely to look at if you can tolerate that kind of purposeless eccentricity. There’s a large portion of the film community that adores everything that Wes Anderson touches and I just don’t fall into that group. Recently a host from one of my favorite podcasts (The Film Vault, if you appreciate great movie talk from two guys that don’t take themselves too seriously you should absolutely check it out) made an observation that I felt was spot on “I would love Wes Anderson if he just made 12 minute shorts”– I could not agree more. Two hours of The Grand Budapest Hotel might have been what turned me off; had I seen this even as a 30 minute short, it would have completely transformed the experience.

Oscar Potential: Hollywood has kind of a hard-on for Wes Anderson so I’m a little nervous about how some of these votes might swing. The Grand Budapest Hotel is nominated for Best Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Original Score, Cinematography, Film Editing, Production Design, Costume Design, and Makeup & Hair. I’d love to see this go home with Best Production Design which I think is kind of a given. I could see the Academy swinging towards Wes Anderson for Best Original Screenplay which would REALLY bum me out; the writing category will be easier to predict after the WGAs on Saturday. The cinematography nomination is very well earned, but I think Immanueal Lubezki is (rightfully) the strongest contendor in that category right now. Again, voting odds will be easier to predict after the American Cinematographer’s Awards on Sunday. I sincerely hope that enthusiasm for The Grand Budapest Hotel doesn’t take attention away from films like Birdman and Whiplash which excel in some of the same categories. In a way I’m annoyed about The Grand Budapest Hotel being nominated the way that it is, but at the same time it’s that sort of competition that makes the Oscars so exciting. I hated that Avatar was nominated for everything in 2009 but that competitive edge made for one of the most exciting awards seasons ever.

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