The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

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“Are you Monsieur Gustave of the Grand Budapest Hotel in Nebelsbad?”

The beginning of The Grand Budapest Hotel is a lot like the experience one might have while checking into their room during a vacation. It’s drawn out and unorganized, setting the tone for a disastrous getaway. I chose the poster above over the more popular one with the hotel’s facade for a simple reason; this movie is overstuffed with characters. Seventeen people on the poster. SEVENTEEN. Only five of them even remotely matter. Try to guess who bears significance from the poster above. Try, and I promise you’ll be wrong.

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During a meal in a nearly empty dining hall, Mr. Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham) recalls a story to a nameless writer played by Jude Law as the young version and Tom Wilkinson as the older, of whom we only catch a fleeting glimpse. Moustafa owns the once illustrious and now rundown hotel, unwilling to close down despite the harsh times it has fallen under. We come to learn why. His name is Zero, and long ago, when the hotel prospered, he was a lobby boy to the finest concierge the world has ever seen…Monsieur Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes).

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Fiennes is sure to receive awards attention, at least for comedic performance categories, as the fast-talking M. Gustave. Fiennes is worth heralding, even while playing a smarmy character who compares women to cuts of meat, saying when you’re young it’s all filets but as you get older you choose the cheaper and juicier pieces (that’s his way of justifying sleeping with 80+ year old blonde women). M. Gustave takes newly in training lobby boy Zero (Tony Revolori) under his wing. The adolescent works his way up, eventually becoming the heir apparent to M. Gustave himself.

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One of the octogenarians M. Gustave “loves” passes away. Madame D. (Tilda Swinton) was a longtime guest of the hotel and lover of M. Gustave so he feels compelled to see her off and has Zero tag along. Upon their arrival at her lavish estate, they realize all walks of life and distant family members have gathered in hopes of receiving parts of Madame D’s fortune in her will. To no surprise, M. Gustave wheedles his way into the thick of a money-grubbing, almost mercenary-like family rallied by Dmitri (Adrien Brody).

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I’m in the lonely minority when I say that this is the most overrated film released so far this year. And not only this movie, but all of director Wes Anderson’s work praised as pieces of genius, save for Rushmore and the amazing stop-motion feature Fantastic Mr. Fox, are overvalued. Hipsters would happily crucify me in Golgotha for that statement. Anderson makes tremendously detailed and stunningly gorgeous films with mise-en-scene that can’t be topped. But where his set design is poetically beautiful, his stories are prosaic. I watched this three days ago and could only remember four characters’ names before looking up more. That’s not good.

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Here’s my main gripe with this film and with Anderson’s work in general; there are absolutely no stakes. Sure, there are brief moments of tension and suspense, but nothing important ever hangs in the balance. The story takes place in between the World Wars, and while it’s addressed, it’s merely a backdrop instead of working as a piece of social satire. You can’t build stakes with a story that has this many prominent roles. It simply can’t be done. What we instead get is a carousel of pointless characters that serve Anderson’s appetite for casting the same circle of actors rather than the story at hand.

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These actors don’t ever get to do their job. They spout trite dialogue, almost as if they are Anderson’s puppets. And watch their movements. Horizontal, vertical, all tracking shots. Everything perfectly centered. This isn’t artistry; it’s reminiscent of looking at a children’s View-Master toy for an hour and a half. It deeply upsets me that this is considered virtuoso film-making. Yes, Anderson has other-worldy talent. It’s just too bad it’s all about his exacting vision buried in what’s become his signature formulaic quirkiness.

“It’s not that I don’t like it; I am physically repulsed.”

Rating: 1.5 out of 5

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