Review: The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

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Director: Wes Anderson
Screenwriters: Hugo Guinness (Story) & Wes Anderson
Cast: Ralph Fiennes, F. Murray Abraham, Jude Law, Jeff Goldblum, Tilda Swinton, Saoirse Ronan, Mathieu Amalric, Jason Schwartzman, Willem Dafoe, Adrien Brody, Bill Murray & introducing Tony Revolori
Runtime: 99 min // Certificate: 15

So I guess it’s official; I just don’t get Wes Anderson. It’s not that I dislike him, far from it, I just don’t get him. His films – with the exceptions of The Life Aquatic… and Fantastic Mr Fox, both of which I like rather a lot – do fuck all for me, yet I seem to be in the minority on his latest effort, The Grand Budapest Hotel, because even his most fervent haters seem to love it. Not me though, which is a particular shame because I really tried, and wanted, to like this one far more than I actually did.

The problem I have with The Grand Budapest Hotel is the same problem I had with Moonrise Quirkdom; it all feels much too slick to be anything other than forced. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a hell of a lot to like about it – which I’ll be sure, in the interests of fairness, to explore in detail later in this review – but the foundations upon which it is built were wholly lacking. The term “style over substance”, an admittedly vapid turn of phrase that doesn’t usually mean anything, springs to mind, and not without good reason. You see, just like with The Darjeeling Limited and, to a lesser extent, the aforementioned Moonrise Quirkdom, I found myself loving the set design and appreciating the acting (which is top notch from everyone involved), while the important stuff – such as the plot, the characters and the approach to storytelling – left me cold and bored.

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What I respect about Wes Anderson – even if I don’t like it about him, per se – is that he knows his style and he sticks to it through thick and thin. Wes Anderson makes the type of films he wants to make, and The Grand Budapest Hotel often feels like a culmination of all his previous efforts rolled into one. At last he’s been given free rein to do what he pleases, and he’ll be damned if anyone or anything is going to get in his way. The film, whose labyrinthine, caper-esque plot left me far more frustrated than amused, beats along with all the trappings of a classic Anderson adventure, so rich is it in attention to detail, in quirkiness (some of which is fun, some of which is downright infuriating) and in love for the medium of cinema. In these respects, I have a great deal of begrudging admiration for what he has achieved.

On another, similar level, the performances grant even the film’s most tedious scenes a certain layer of entertainment because they’re all, without exception, marvellous. Ralph Fiennes is a joy to behold in a role that is a million miles from his comfort zone (in fact, the film is worth seeing purely to hear Fiennes use the phrase “shaking like a shitting dog”), while Anderson’s usual go-to guys, such as Defoe, Murray and Schwartzman, are all on top of their game. The characters are a pain in the backside but I’m willing to accept them when the people playing them are doing such a bloody good job. Like pieces of a painstaking jigsaw, the vast cast of talents comes together marvellously and they’re all very engaging.

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Alas, the film as a whole just didn’t click with me at all. Its biggest crime is that it’s nowhere near as hilarious as it seems to think it is. There are a few chuckles here or there, and Ralph Fiennes is consistently amusing, but I thought most of the gags were lame and, as I’ve already stated, forced. It peaks in the first act, when all of the barmy ideas are first introduced, and then struggles to maintain the pace, instead descending into a rather dull love story with some random crime elements and a few pointless musings on the hotel’s rich history thrown in to stop it grinding to a complete halt. The film has been praised to the high heavens for its humour, its warmth and Anderson’s direction, yet only the last of these elements left an impression on me.

Now, I know I’m in the minority on this one but the simple truth is I just didn’t find it very funny. I have a lot of time for Anderson’s stylistic choices and I think the individual elements are all fantastic. The final product, however, just didn’t work for me. When push came to shove, I sat there for almost 100 minutes and watched a film that amounted to a whole load of nothing. I didn’t laugh enough, I didn’t care about the characters and I thought the plot was tedious in the extreme. It’s probably my fault, not Mr Anderson’s, but The Grand Budapest Hotel was, for me, a real let down. However, if you’re a fan of Wes Anderson I absolutely recommend giving it a go because it’s chock full of all the stuff that makes his other films so admired… well, so admired by everyone except me it seems.

Oh well, I guess we all have that one director we just can’t get into and, despite numerous efforts, it seems that Wes Anderson is mine.

★★½

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