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The Grand Budapest Hotel

Before and after all things, “Grand Budapest Hotel” is a Wes Anderson film.  That’s more than just a fact (I hear you: “gee, thanks, Will, I didn’t know.) it’s a mission statement.  Maybe more than anything else, Anderson has a unique voice; he makes movies nobody else could make.  It’s fun to imagine a Marvel superhero movie directed by Wes Anderson, but it also makes my brain hurt a little.

I’ve written in the past about what I like about Wes Anderson movies, and I am a fan.  But I’m not a huge fan, not like some people (writing about “Grand Budapest” last year, Nathan Rabin compared not liking Wes Anderson films to not liking sunshine and wet puppy noses.) “Fantastic Mr. Fox” and “Moonrise Kingdom” both made my top 10 list for their respective years, but both were at #9.  I don’t think “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is going to make the list this year, though it’s on par with both of those movies in terms of quality and, well, Wes Anderson-iness.

So, I’m going to say, this is a pretty good movie, and then I’m going to tell you what I don’t like about Anderson’s movies.

To begin with, I don’t like the emotional distance I always feel between me and the characters.  I don’t feel like there’s much room in Anderson’s film for actors to ply their craft. Almost every character in every Anderson film speaks and moves in the same way — too fast.  This seems to be the director’s sense of comic timing: the faster you say something ridiculous, the funnier it is.  Often it works, but it’s wearying after a while.

Anderson likes to choose quirky and eccentric settings for his movies — “Grand Budapest” is set in something a lot like Switzerland, “Moonrise Kingdom” on an island in New England.  All of them are paeans to culture that is disappearing. But not only are all of Anderson’s locations overwhelmingly populated by white people, they seem like places where non-whites would be profoundly uncomfortable.  Part of what is passing away is a cloistered-ness of “all the best places” by WASPs, or their counterparts.

There are a few moments in “The Grand Budapest Hotel” when Anderson seems to be poking at this a bit, but they both work to illustrate my first point.  Zero, of course, is non-white, vaguely North African of some sort. When M. Gustave asks Zero if he’s ever been arrested, we find out that in fact he was arrested and tortured by the rebel army during the civil war raging in his home country.  And later, we find out a bit more, when Gustave asks him why he left (in a blatantly racist attack he immediately repents of): his father was murdered, his family imprisoned, he fled for his life.

All of this is rattled off quickly (which equals comically) and then moved past incredibly quickly.  We never really get to know Zero, because we never really get to know any of Anderson’s characters. Even his love affair with Agatha feels terribly cold and lacking in chemistry – there’s no time for chemistry in a film moving as fast as this one. None of it is allowed to inform who Zero is as a character. Torture and exile are a joke, albeit an absurdist one.  I have a hard time with that.

There’s a precision and calculation to Anderson’s films that puts me off, as well.  Nothing ever feels spontaneous or surprising.  It’s like watching an intricate cuckoo clock, or a Rube Goldberg contraption.  Of course it’s neat to see how one thing sets off another, and she walks out of this corner of the screen just as he walks into that corner, but that’s about all I can say about it – gee golly, it’s neat!  (Two of my favorite moments in “Grand Budapest” were two that surprised me — when Gustave runs away from the police, and when Jopling throws the cat out the window. I only wish there were more moments like these.) 

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” is a good movie.  Wes Anderson fans will be pleased, even delighted. But will I watch it again?  Probably not, at least for a while. The more Anderson I watch, the less Anderson I want to watch.



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Posted in All Reviews, by Will Krischke.

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