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The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

April 10, 2014

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It’s times like this when I’m aware that my overtly harsh criticisms can tend to annoy others. Many of you reading this may have seen, or will see, Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel. Of the some, a majority (according to Rotten Tomatoes) of you will love what you watched. I’m here to question, and possibly ruin, your experience, and also explain why I think The Grand Budapest Hotel is a piece of overly (self-indulgent turd that seeps with pretentiousness. Considering my disdain for Anderson’s films, it should come as no surprise that I hated The Grand Budapest Hotel. I continuously groaned to myself and struggled to stay awake while watching it. I won’t lie, I laughed here and there, and yes, initially I found the visual spectacle of the film impressive. However, that impression quickly faded into bitter annoyance as Anderson outdoes himself. The Grand Budapest Hotel is one of the most self-indulgent, artsy-fartsy films I’ve ever seen. It’s so trapped within its own sense of superiority that it fails to have an objective view or even a point to its story.

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I won’t even attempt to summarize the plot as I’m still unsure what was taking place and why. Interestingly enough Anderson steps out of his comfort zone to incorporate themes of war and set his story outside of the comfy cushion of white suburban American. Here our story takes place instead within a high-class, elitist country immaculately conceived from Anderson’s own mind; a false constructed world where minorities only exist as “the help.” Sure, real life situations like war exist in this world, but you know what comes of it? Absolutely nothing. For some reason, Anderson creates an alternate realm of reality in which war exists, yet there’s no view or focus on it as a concept nor reality.  You’ll be hard-pressed to even find an opinion on war in this ridiculous hodgepodge of a film.

War instead is only used as a means of a plot device and to guarantee some cool costume designs. I know what some of you are thinking, “who cares?” But, my argument is “what’s the point?” Why create a world where one of the most controversial byproducts of mankind is featured when you’re not going to even remotely touch on its existence. That’s like going to costume party dressed as Hitler, then get insulted that other people are offended. You’re right, it’s a free country, you can dress as Hitler all day and night if you please. But, if you’re not making a statement then such attire just makes you look like an asshole.

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While Ralph Fiennes and William Defoe are beyond impressive and hilarious in their roles, they weren’t enough to save the film from how nonsensical its characters and sequence of events are. I’m fully aware that non-existent character development and quirkiness for quirkiness sake is just Anderson’s style, but what annoys me the most with The Grand Budapest Hotel is the one thing Anderson usually gets a pass from me for; his visuals. The Grand Budapest Hotel becomes exhausting and tedious to watch as every single shot is perfectly concocted to be picturesque. Not a single hair is out of place, not a single piece of lint floats by, and no one is ever in the frame if they don’t contribute to the symmetrical alignment of bodies and objects. The beauty of the film’s visuals quickly turns into banal over-stimulation weighed down by Anderson’s obsession for placement and balance.

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Furthermore, my frustrations lie in the fact that critics are jizzing themselves over this film as if Anderson’s old gimmicks and stylistic tropes haven’t been continuously used throughout the years. The reoccurring defense I’m finding in reviews is that The Grand Budapest Hotel is just Anderson being Anderson. But that’s a problem. You mean to tell me no one expects anything more from him? The Grand Budapest Hotel had a $23 million budget that allowed Anderson to capture a slew of superficial images to edit together as a means to tell a subpar barely cohesive story. Why are Wes Anderson fans not demanding more from him as a filmmaker and story teller? The Grand Budapest Hotel doesn’t answer the major plot question of who murdered a key character that most of the film’s shenanigans revolve around. It doesn’t make sense when an inheritance is granted out of a narrative gimmick. It definitely doesn’t make sense that an Indian character’s older self is played by a white actor either.

What is it about Anderson’s film that allow his fans to blindly accept his films as innovations in cinema? Orson Wells made more picturesque films in the 1940s and 50s that possessed fascinating, well-crafted stories. The boom of Technicolor during the Studio Era of Hollywood boasted brighter colors far more exuberant than Anderson’s. What I once found appealing and attractive about Wes Anderson has been proven now to be a one-trick pony that’s standing on it last leg. Anderson’s film feels like you have to be part of a secret club to like or understand. It’s rather interesting that the most humanistic elements of The Grand Budapest Hotel are glossed over in verbal exposition instead of getting fleshed out for the sake of general relatablility. Honestly, I’m grateful my views on life don’t allow me to fit into such a club. I’d rather be thinking about the complexities of human existence and emotion rather than starting at pretty colors absent mindedly.

AVOID IT. And take a trip to an art museum if visual beauty is what you’re looking for. You’ll get far better abstract thinking too.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. April 16, 2014 12:50 PM

    Great post, albeit it disappoints me a little. Like you, I don’t quite understand the appeal of Wes Anderson nor his films. I read your post on why you disliked him, and I was in complete agreement…finally…someone out there hates his work like me! But I felt there was a shift with Moonrise Kingdom and a greater shift with Grand Budapest (which I surprisingly loved). Grand Budapest still contains the recognizable style of Anderson, but it seemed to develop a more mainstream appeal….it caught my attention, which is NEVER easy to do with Anderson’s films! Really great post though…I’m going to quote you on my ‘in defense of grand Budapest’ review when I write it, because almost all your gripes are how I feel too.

    • April 16, 2014 10:43 PM

      Thanks so much for the awesomely kind words! I understand your dilemma, I was hoping to at least be charmed by Grand Budapest since Moonrise Kingdom was so impressive. But I just found most of the story redundant. It’s definitely Wes’ most ambitious film and I think much of its greatness is owed to Ralph Fiennes and William Defoe. I also really liked how crass the humor was at times. I wanted to like it but its just the epitome of a Wes Anderson film for better or for worse haha. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, it’s always interesting to hear other people’s insights!

  2. criscodisco permalink
    July 30, 2014 12:18 AM

    I’ll admit to ending up on your site after Googling “I don’t get Wes Anderson,” which in turn I did after watching this movie. So I definitely lean toward the don’t-like side of the spectrum. But I also have seen almost all of his films and found Moonrise Kingdom and Grand Budapest Hotel to be strong shifts toward something I at least can understand even if I still don’t really enjoy watching them. But even though I’m not ever going to be a big Wes Anderson fan (probably, at least), I feel like some of your criticisms ring pretty hollow, particularly ones about plot. Who murdered the old lady is not a “major plot question” – the murder is something that sets the wheels in motion for the film. But this isn’t a whodunnit film, and I certainly didn’t think that was something that needed to be resolved to make the story click. If that’s what you were waiting to find out, I kind of wonder how much attention you were really giving the film. Which, even if you weren’t paying attention, that’s understandable! Wes Anderson films are kind of boring! But I think the understanding of developed of his movies are that it’s not really about plot, that’s not the point of his movies. Anderson is more concerned with exploring themes and ideas than telling a story. And again, I think that’s something that I have to admit I’m just not interested in, but it doesn’t make him a bad filmmaker necessarily. I guess my main issue with your review (and, to a lesser extent, your older article on Anderson) is the idea that it takes plot and character development to necessarily make a good film. While I also enjoy those things, I don’t think a focus on plot is the only way to make a movie, and I think it’s valuable to recognize that.

    Also, and this is a much more minor thing, but if you’re going to complain about race stuff you should probably at least get it right. The actor playing the younger Zero is of Guatemalan descent, and F Murray Abraham is half Arab (his father was from Syria) so definitely not “white.” Also, I thought Zero’s ethnicity was left ambiguous and not specifically Indian, but I suppose I may have missed that. Either way, far less egregious than you make it out to be.

    • July 31, 2014 12:18 AM

      Thanks so much for the thoughtful and in depth response! I appreciate your criticisms, you definitely make some good points. It’s disheartening that my critiques come off as if I think plot and character development are what solely makes a film “good” or “bad” because I truly love films of all sorts that have no character development or classic story telling methods whatsoever. I’m a huge fan and strong advocate for experimentation and going against the grain in not only cinema but all walks of art and life. Holy Mountain, Gummo, Head, Godard; just a few experimental works I adore. I’ll definitely work on explaining my qualms better in future reviews when plot or characters are weak.

      That being said, you’re right, for me Grand Budapest was just unbearably boring. I tried to keep up but the story is so mangled that it was hard to follow what was going on which is why I consider Anderson a poor storyteller. I personally felt the murder was a major aspect that for some reason just got pushed to the back, almost forgotten, however, it may very well have not been an important aspect of the film to begin with. Thus the conundrum of the creator/observer relationship. His physical direction was also extremely monotonous which led me to focus on other aspects of the film, which as you know just put a bad taste in my mouth. But thanks again for the comment. I really like being called out and am always down to clarify my points if need be! I hope that helped do it for me.

  3. Stephanie permalink
    January 11, 2015 4:22 AM

    I am watching the film as I type and I am about to switch it off. I like to watch all films likely to be nominated come awards season but this is one I just cannot get into. Your words speak volumes and summarize what I am thinking. It’s pretty, yes but it lacks substance. Having come from seeing The Imitation Game and Birdman I feel a little cheated of my time.

    • January 12, 2015 11:05 PM

      Oh wow, I can’t imagine how bland and nonsensical Grand Budapest must have been after watching Birdman. If you turned it off early you did yourself a true solid.

  4. Byron permalink
    January 15, 2015 11:52 AM

    I’m so glad I found your site here….after making myself stay up to see the movie on latenight cable because of the awards coming…I wanted to stab my eyes out after the movie was over. To your point, what was the plot again? Besides the color being brilliant and eyecatching…shouldn’t there be a story? I agree that Ralph Fiennes was great in this dreck….but William Defoe “hilarious”, I would have to disagree. A chuckle in the first hour, and a smile in the second hour doesn’t make it for me….but the world loves Wes Anderson so I guess I’ll just be over here watching Escape plan for the 20th time! UGH!

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