REVIEW: The Grand Budapest Hotel

3 06 2014

Just so we’re clear: I have no problems with auteurism.  For those of you who just saw a French word and panicked, I’m referring to a school of film criticism that looks for recurring patterns throughout the work of an artist (usually the director).  It can often be a very interesting lens through which to analyze a set of films, and auteurism has the ability to shine a light on filmmakers outside of the general circles of critical acclaim.

Like anything in life, the theory has a dark underbelly, and to me, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” represents the perils of auteurism run rampant.  The film is Wes Anderson’s “Django Unchained,” in the sense that it represents a moment of stasis in the progression of a great director.  Anderson is now more than a director; essentially, he’s a brand, expected by customers to deliver a certain consistency of product.

Put into the position of becoming a cinematic McDonald’s, Anderson takes the easy way out by providing an assembly-line reproduction of what he has already created to great admiration.  “The Grand Budapest Hotel” feels like a less vibrant remake of a film he’s already made – or, perhaps more accurately, it feels like all of them at once.  Despite being set in a semi-fictionalized interwar Central Europe, the world Anderson portrays seems reassembled from pieces of “Moonrise Kingdom,” “The Darjeeling Limited,” and even “Fantastic Mr. Fox.”

Even more than Anderson’s last feature-length cinematic outing in 2012, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” takes his telltale stylistic flourishes and puts them to an exponential degree.  Every other take in the film had to be a tracking shot, so it seemed.  The cameos and other miscellaneous odd appearances by acclaimed thespians is now less of an amusing diversion and more of a distracting parade.  The off-beat characters feel less like quirky people and more like paper dolls traipsing around in the elegant house Anderson created for their frolicking delight.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

It’s the last of those three gripes I have with “The Grand Budapest Hotel” that disappoints me the most about the film.  Anderson has demonstrated a keen sense for visual aesthetics throughout his work, yet his commitment form did not preclude him for developing organic and peculiar characters who were seeking the proper outlets for their respective eccentric obsessions.  Save Ralph Fiennes’ M. Gustave, a debonair concierge at the hotel who represents a waning era of European formalism being ushered out by the rise of fascism, everyone populating the set feels rather two-dimensional.

Worst of all, it seems that Anderson himself is sanctioning this turn in his own work.  He’s directing his actors to act like wind-up robots whose sole purpose is to deliver a line in Wes Anderson-speak on cue.  The ensemble of “The Grand Budapest Hotel” has shown they are capable of much more than this (many of them have delivered great performances in other Anderson films, I might add).

I can’t accuse Anderson of being sloppy or indiscriminate in the way he directed the film, however.  “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is a meticulously crafted work where no detail seems to have gone neglected by Anderson’s fastidious eye.  The vibrance of each colorful set piece along with Alexandre Desplat’s jaunty score alone is enough to keep anyone intrigued to some extent.  Too bad Anderson couldn’t have spent the same amount of time revisiting his script, which suffers under the weight of multiple frames and a cast too large for its own good.

There is a paradoxical trap that many great artists find themselves backed into: being bold eventually leads to playing it safe.  As a fan watching these movies intensely for the evolution of an auteur’s style, a feeling of frustration is inevitable when someone like Anderson sticks with the familiar when I know he is capable of major stylistic breakthroughs.  Hopefully this is little more than a momentary rest for the director.  If not, he risks becoming his own best caricaturist.  C2stars


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