Here’s how I like to think of Wes Anderson movies: they are places Bill Murray likes to exist in, so the world of Wes Anderson’s films must be the same world where Bill Murrays can be found roaming wild everywhere. Murray has appeared in every single one of Anderson’s movies since Rushmore up to and including his latest, The Grand Budapest Hotel. I suppose Anderson’s talent for using a bit of the surreal to elevate drama must appeal to Murray – and it certainly appeals to a large and dedicated fan base.
The problem is that lately Anderson has been very… Anderson. His movies share a lot of common characteristics: strange soundtracks, exaggerated deadpan characters, straight-on shots of characters, saturated colours and top-notch actors who were already licking the scenery in pre-prod. And Bill Murray. His latest movie is no different and by all means should be fantastic. Unless you are already a fan…
The Grand Budapest Hotel takes places in a fictional hotel, situated in the equally fictional Republic of Zubrowka. It centers around the hotel’s concierge during its hey-day, a legendary man called Monsieur Gustave H, as told by his protege to a writer. Gustave is a flamboyant but effective taskmaster, running the hotel and pampering its guests to such an extent that the hotel’s visitors were mainly there to see him. When a client dies, he is given a valuable painting by her estate, something the departed’s son is not happy with. But in true Anderson style this is just one of several story threads running along and across each other. We learn about the protege, the hotel and the fantastic world views of Gustave.
There is really nothing wrong with the movie. Anderson’s films are known to be visual treats and Grand Budapest is no different. It might even be his best-looking film yet. And the actors are certainly not holding back. Ralph Fiennes is absolutely in charge as Gustave: easily one of his best roles yet, Fiennes dominates the screen. But you can expect memorable appearances by a great cast that includes Willem Defoe, Harvey Keitel, Adrien Brody, Jeff Goldblum, Jude Law and Edward Norton (though the movie is almost absent of significant female characters). The sets are lush, the dialogue is crisp and there is never a dull moment. It is by every measure a great movie. If you haven’t seen many of his films, I can happily recommend this.
But it is also a bit too familiar. I noticed this problem first creep into his work with Anderson’s previous film Moonrise Kingdom, which was a bit too clinical for my taste. It was as if everyone showed up and did their job, but nobody seemed into things. And yet it was not bad or even all that pretentious (providing you don’t find his work pretentious in general). It was just been-there-done-that. Meh. That’s the word. It was meh.
The Grand Budapest has a lot more personality and energy, so it is better than Moonrise Kingdom. But you still feel like you are watching a sequel to Royal Tenembaums or expect a joint-smoking seaman to saunter through the lobby. The Grand Budapest Hotel might bring the spark back into Anderson’s repertoire, but it doesn’t do anything new. As such nothing really sticks or stand out and as a fan I have to wonder if Anderson is toiling in a creative rut. He certainly isn’t so critically or financially: the movie has been broadly lauded and made more than any of his previous works.
This is because The Grand Budapest Hotel is fun to watch. And it is obvious why: it is a good movie. But other noted auteurs, like the Coen Brothers, Quentin Tarantino and Darren Aronofsky, have managed to evolve their films. Anderson has just evolved to be really good at making the same kind of film (though it should be stressed that he is really good at it). At this rate he is destined to become the Michael Bay of faux art films.
Last Updated: July 22, 2014