PHOTO BY FOX SEARCHLIGHT PICTURES
THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL
Where is it playing?: Bay, The Palm, Park, Stadium 10
What's it rated?: R
What's it worth?: $6.00
What's it worth?: $7.00
Wes Anderson (Moonrise Kingdom) adds to his highly stylized collection of comedies with the story of M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), concierge of the Grand Budapest Hotel in the fictional war-torn European nation. (100 min.)
Editor’s note: New Times Managing Editor Ashley Schwellenbach and Senior Staff Writer Colin Rigley sat in for regular reviewer Glen Starkey this week.
Colin: I hate kicking off “Sun Screen.” Rather than lay out my opinions about The Grand Budapest Hotel, I’m supposed to give a synopsis of the plot and characters. And if you’ve seen a preview of director Wes Anderson’s latest bizarre hipster fantasy, you already have a good idea of what you’re in for. M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) is concierge of the Grand Budapest Hotel, a renowned mountain-top getaway in the deteriorating fictional Republic of Zubrowka. In addition to having a fetish for Depends, when Gustave isn’t servicing attention-starved octogenarians he’s mentoring a young political refugee lobby boy, Zero (Tony Revolori). What follows is a cartoonish romp as Gustave skirts the law; escapes from prison; and attempts to unravel a convoluted conspiracy involving the family of his deceased lover, Madame D. (Tilda Swinton). Anderson brings his unique brand of filmmaking to the forefront with perfectly symmetrical shots that place the subjects in a world more akin to a living diorama than a movie set. On the whole, Grand Budapest is amusing, highly awkward at times, and filled with deadpan characters—perhaps too many—in an interesting setting. Where Grand Budapest fails most of all is in its inability to best Anderson’s previous flicks, most notably the stellar Moonrise Kingdom. Is it fair to judge this movie based on how it stacks up to the director’s earlier works? I dunno, probably not. But at this point, Anderson has so completely out-Andersoned himself that it’s hard to not grow tired of a style that is in severe need of a makeover.
Ashley: I have to start off by saying that I’m a big fan of Anderson’s work. Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is my favorite movie, and a number of his other films come in pretty high on the list. I have to say that because I’m about to do something I never thought I’d have to: trash a Wes Anderson movie. The initial difficulty is one quite common these days; all the best parts of the movie were featured in the trailer, so I felt like I was sitting in the theater counting down until a particular line or scene. What’s a movie without any surprises? Without any unexpected charm or humor? Worse still, none of the characters evolves beyond caricature; perhaps the worst is Dmitri (Adrian Brody) and his thug Jopling (Willem Dafoe), who aren’t nuanced enough to be interesting villains. In fact, at one point Dmitri calls someone a “faggot” which I spent the rest of the movie trying to mentally shake off, because it was so gratuitous. And Jopling’s black eyeliner, fangs, and brass knuckles made of skulls? What is this, Twilight? Typically, Anderson deals in caricatures who become interesting, nuanced, lovable, troubled characters. But with only two exceptions really, I was uninterested and unmoved by his attemptedly zany and exceedingly large cast.
Colin: When you’re a kid and you first start to catch glimpses of the adult world—complete with its cursing, violence, and sex—it’s exhilarating, but mostly just uncomfortable. This is how I felt walking out of the theater (or is it theatre?): like a kid who finally saw his first R-rated movie, and suddenly yearned again for the safety and humor of Disney. Previous Wes Anderson movies have managed to create a child-like world with some adult themes, but Grand Budapest often crossed too far over that line and created a disconnect between tone and content. I’m not going to say I didn’t like this movie—it was perfectly enjoyable—but it’s not going to settle into that warm, nostalgic center of my memory. Perhaps it’s time for Anderson to scale back his style, as it now seems to be more of a handicap, or at best a bullet point. The cameos from his well-used cast of regulars—Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, and Jason Schwartzman, for example—felt gimmicky and unnecessary. I guess what I’m saying is that at this point in his career, Anderson should consider retiring his signature style and attempting something new. We get it, Anderson, you’re cool and edgy and indie and everything those other stodgy filmmakers are not. Now stop it.
Ashley: I think the idea of scaling back his style might actually be a worthwhile consideration. The entire film seemed to rest on gimmicks that I’ve come to love because of how thoughtfully and lovingly they’re done, but mostly because they beautifully complement the plot. But here we’re given a plot that feels fractured—an endless series of guest appearances, shots of buildings that look like theater sets, and absurd moments that never quite pick up enough steam to become a coherent narrative. Also, I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I’m freaking sick of movies framed by a young, sensitive novelist either telling his story or being told a story which he will undoubtedly turn into a bestselling novel. It’s been done to death and didn’t afford any great surprise or emotional sway. All that this framing accomplished was eating up perhaps 20 minutes of the film. And yes, maybe I’m being more harsh than I would be with another director, with one whose work I loved less perhaps, but overall I feel quite let down by this latest homage to Anderson’s own quirky style. I’m not quite going to state that the hipster emperor has no clothes; instead I’ll argue that they’re wearing mighty thin.
Send comments to New Times Managing Editor Ashley Schwellenbach at email@example.com.