Thursday, April 3, 2014

A Customer Complaint at The Grand Budapest Hotel

     It's become a bit of a cliche for Wes Anderson films. A reviewer will see his latest (undeniably pretty to look at) creation and state: "It surely won't change your opinion about Wes Anderson and all of his eccentricities!" Yes, I think we all know at this point: you either "get" Anderson and his never-fail Doll-House style film making, or you don't. To me, he's always been a bit hit or miss. For every Rushmore--a coming-of-age full of hilarious sarcasm--there's a Darjeeling Limited--a film that combined all of Anderson's quirks in the worst possizzzzzzzzzzzz...sorry, I fell asleep just thinking about it. And that's the thing about Wes Anderson: his films inspire wonderful praise or intense hatred depending on who you talk to. The Grand Budapest Hotel, his new one, has all the makings of classic Anderson: a great cast, a luscious and exotic setting, and stellar reviews. But nothing sticks. Peering into the past for a story (mainly) about the bond between a talented hotel concierge and his lobby boy, Budapest doesn't have characters as much as thinly-drawn caricatures. It's a Hotel that left me feeling vacant.
     Anderson's latest doohickey of a film is a story within a story within a story, a sort of Russian nesting doll that takes place over 3 different time periods, though one (the period starting in the year 1932, the beginning of the end of the hotel's glory days) is significantly more prominent (and also shown in a different aspect ratio, making it feel older). The main story revolves around Gustave (Ralph Fiennes, who performs admirably enough), the Hotel's concierge who sees to the "needs" of the older women clientele who frequent the establishment. He befriends a new Lobby Boy, Zero (Tony Revolori [as a kid] and F. Murray Abraham [as an adult]), and when one of his most-loved older women dies, Gustave and Zero try to outmaneuver her family dealing with the inheritance, mainly a painting titled Boy with Apple that's basically priceless. They decide to make off with the painting rather than wait for the legal proceedings.
     They meet a wide assortment of characters during their caper journey, the most entertaining being Harvey Keitel as a fellow prisoner once Gustave gets tossed behind bars. Adrien Brody pops up as the deceased Madam's son, Dmitri. Needless to say he's not happy with Gustave showing up to take a portion of his inheritance, so he sends a henchman, J. G. Jopling (Willem Dafoe, who doesn't so much as act as sneer and growl), to pursue the pair. The story then unravels through Anderson's detailed imagination jumping from location to location, the history of the coming war in the background.
     Many other actors--like flocking birds--appear throughout The Grand Budapest Hotel: Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Edward Norton, and the always-present-for-Anderson Jason Schwartzman. But rather than showing up to become fully (or even partially) fleshed-out characters, their purpose more-often-than not seems to be a wink at the audience. Oh, look who just popped onto the screen, Bill Murray, haha! Like in The Darjeeling Limited (Anderson's worst film), Budapest tries to be funny and clever but it rarely makes you laugh. It's full of emotional themes that could easily have some resonance but end up getting sucked below the eccentricity.
     I did enjoy Fiennes as Gustave (at least in the first half of the film), and since he's the main star, he gets most of the screen time, allowing us to relate a little bit more than the other actors who are playing dress-up. But his shtick, full of the colorful and quirky language (this time with a 1930's flair) that Anderson is well-known for, still grows tiresome by the time the credits roll. The good Anderson films contain funny characters and idiosyncratic dialogue too: but they allow allow their characters to live and breath. There are moments of silence...moments of thoughtful emotional plangency. The Grand Budapest Hotel barely has any--it's plot point after plot point, location to different situations. Nobody grows. There's just a lot of narration. And when the climax travels back to the start of it all, the lobby (more incredible set design) of the Grand Hotel, I was too busy checking out of my room to care.    (C)

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