Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Grand Budapest Hotel: A Visual Feast

I am not a Wes Anderson expert, but I do love his movies. In the lead up to the release of The Grand Budapest Hotel, there were many articles discussing his unique style, and I learned that Anderson designed the font that was used for the credits, and that the film's three different time periods were filmed in three different aspect ratios reflecting what was standard in cinemas at the time. The level of detail and precision in every frame is what makes him a fascinating filmmaker, and it is why I headed straight to the theater to watch The Grand Budapest Hotel.

Visually, this movie is a masterpiece. It is saturated with color, texture, and wonder. Every element has been chosen to complement the whole and the result is a riot of visual splendor. Whether it's the sets or the costumes, everything is distinctive and charming, and typically Andersonian. Story-wise, however, the movie sorely failed to engage me. A series of nested tales, it is creatively brilliant but emotionally bland. 

The bulk of the movie takes place in 1932 and follows Monsieur Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), the concierge of The Grand Budapest Hotel, and his new bellboy, Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori), who he is training to meet his exacting standards. Gustave runs the hotel impeccably, ensuring everything looks perfect and all the guests needs are met. In the case of some guests, namely rich elderly ladies, he goes the extra mile. When one of these ladies dies and leaves Gustave a priceless painting, her entitled relatives are furious. Suddenly, he is accused of murdering the lady for his personal gain, and what follows is a series of escapades as Zero tries to help his boss escape from prison and clear his good name.

Ralph Fiennes is a fine actor, but in his hands, Gustave mostly comes off as an arrogant character who can't generate much sympathy from the audience. He is a very frustrated popinjay and the shtick wears thin after an hour. The supporting cast is cameo-like throughout: Anderson's usual repertoire is present, but they only show up for a few scenes and barely do anything before they waltz off screen. Anderson's genius lies in his ability to create a quirky, bizarre ensemble, but in this movie, we mostly just watch the duo of Gustave and Zero, and they can't sustain the comedy for long. 

The Grand Budapest Hotel is beautiful to behold, but underneath that captivating exterior is very little heart. Ultimately I failed to care much about the characters, the zany plot that felt a bit too repetitive, and the side stories that only existed to cram in some famous faces. Because of my background reading, it was wonderful to more closely observe Anderson's technical expertise. But ultimately I was unsatisfied. Clearly a lot of thought went into the artistry, but the story fell by the wayside.

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