By Ygal Kaufman
The Wes Anderson journey has finally come full circle with his eighth feature directorial effort, The Grand Budapest Hotel, currently playing at the Darkside Cinema. Unfortunately I don’t mean “full circle” in a “return to his roots” sort of way, but more in a “motifs so worn out the movie is a parody of itself” sort of way. And bear in my mind, I issue this biting criticism even though I mostly enjoyed his latest offering.
Grand Budapest is the wild and gorgeously realized tale of M. Gustave, the insanely dedicated and slightly slimy concierge of the titular hotel, which exists in fictional Zubrowka (a mélange of middle European countries) just before the outbreak of World War 2. Gustave is played to utter perfection by the great Ralph Fiennes, and it only seems a shame he didn’t collaborate with Anderson sooner. Gustave takes Zero Moustafa, a young refugee bellboy, under his wing to teach him the mysteries of life.
And then his tutelage is interrupted by a painting theft that takes them on a wild chase across the country including prison breaks, severed fingers and a host of other horrors.
This is where the movie sort of falls apart. Which is a shame, because the beauty and precision that goes into framing the whole package is indeed breathtaking. It’s just that Anderson’s become so predictably Andersonian, there’s not a surprising moment in the film.
The cast is splendid. In addition to Fiennes, performances by F. Murray Abraham, Mathieu Amalric, Adrien Brody, Jude Law, Ed Norton, Harvey Keitel, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum and Tom Wilkinson are all thoroughly enjoyable, which is to say nothing of the delightful cameos by Jason Schwartzman, Tilda Swinton, Owen Wilson, Bill Murray and others. But the story flies by with nothing to keep you holding on, save your interest in which Wes Anderson regular will appear next.
The wild caper has violence, love, comedy, tragedy, and all the other key elements in a full life. It’s just too frenetic and schizophrenic a delivery to be fully enjoyed.
I’m a huge fan of Anderson’s work. Bottle Rocket, Rushmore and The Life Aquatic are 3 of my very favorite films. But in all the simple ways those films scored, this one falls short.
I challenge the viewer to succinctly summarize what this film is really about. Aquatic, for all its grandiose visuals, ridiculous characters and outrageous scenarios, was a bittersweet exploration of a midlife crisis. You didn’t have to be Jaques Cousteau to identify with Bill Murray’s Steve Zissou.
If you have never stolen a painting, made love to an octogenarian or broken out of prison, it’s hard to understand how one would identify with Budapest.
Of course the package is undeniably compelling, and it’s nigh on to impossible to dislike this film. It’s just lighter, fluffier and less compelling than Anderson’s classic works.
When M. Gustave launches into a flowery soliloquy on the fleeting nature of life only to lose steam and say, “oh, f!@$ it,” you almost find yourself saying it with him. The moment aims for laughs, but is ultimately an indictment of Anderson’s increasingly douchey reliance on cutesy motifs. At this point in the film, you’ll understand what I mean when I say he’s impersonating himself.
But for a genius like Wes Anderson, even a half successful effort is well worth your time.
The Grand Budapest Hotel is playing at the Darkside Cinema, 215 SW 4th St.