REVIEW: “The Grand Budapest Hotel”

Budapest Poster

When Wes Anderson releases a movie it’s almost like an event for me. I’m such a fan of his work and I enjoy each visit I make to his unique and eccentric world. Finally his latest film “The Grand Budapest Hotel” made its way to my area. After a grueling wait the film finally cured my impatience but did it meet my ridiculously high expectations? I’ve come to expect so much from Anderson’s movies and my lofty expectations seem almost unfair. And perhaps those same expectations contributed to my somewhat cold and indifferent reaction to this film.

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” features so many signature trademarks of other Wes Anderson films. We get the quirky period design, an assortment of offbeat characters, a host of stylistic visual flourishes, and a level of expected absurdity. All of those things are present here and they all work to the film’s advantage. These are some of the fingerprints I want to see all over a Wes Anderson movie. But there were other signatures that injects his movies with their own personality and vibrancy that I found missing in this film.

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The story is told in a fractured style but the vast majority of it takes place within a fictitious Eastern European country during 1932. We are introduced to Monsieur Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes), the concierge of The Grand Budapest Hotel during its glory days of luxury and prominence. Gustave is meticulous in his running of the hotel and his love for extravagance is only outdone by his adoration for strong cologne and for his elderly clientele. The story becomes a murder mystery after one of his close acquaintances Madame D (Tilda Swinton) is found dead and Gustave becomes the key suspect. It also becomes a heist film and of course a comedy.

The film is also loaded with a massive number of side characters. Some are like Fiennes and new to Wes Anderson’s world while others are old faithful stalwarts who find their way into nearly every one of his movies. Toni Revolori plays a young lobby boy named Zero who becomes Gustave’s protégé and faithful sidekick. Adrien Brody plays Dmitri, the son of the murdered Madame D. Willem Dafoe plays a grunting snaggletoothed hitman. I could go on and on listing small characters who service the story (some better than others). They are all sprinkled onto stylistic canvases that include an alpine village, a prison, and of course The Grand Budapest itself. There is truly an artistry to the entire visual presentation and all of that worked for me.

But what was it about the film that at first held me at arm’s length? Why didn’t I have the same wonderful experience as I usually have with Wes Anderson pictures during a first viewing? First off I just didn’t find it as funny as I had hoped. Certainly there were moments where I laughed but as a whole the dry humor wasn’t that effective. Even the crowd I watched with had their giggles held to a minimum. This film was also coarse and crasser than most of Anderson’s other pictures. Much of it is played for laughs but I found it to be distracting and it felt as though Anderson, normally known for his creative freedom, was really stretching.

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Another missing component for me was the deeper emotional thread that every Anderson film has had. For example in “The Royal Tenenbaums” you have the destructive results that a father’s behavior has had on his family. In “The Darjeeling Limited” you have three separated brothers each carrying the baggage of their father’s death. “Moonrise Kingdom” features two kids with no stable adult presence in their lives. They find their refuge by running away together. The same thing applies to “Rushmore” and “The Fantastic Mr. Fox”. Anderson has always had a knack for presenting a deeper and more piercing subject and effectively surrounding it with humor. Every sense of that is vague and almost absent from this entire film. He does tinker with a few themes via the impending war that lingers in the background, the desires for the nostalgic “better days”, etc. But none of these stood out to me at all.

This is the first screenplay that Anderson has written by himself. Does that play into the things I found lacking? I don’t know, perhaps. Anderson is also often accused of going overboard with his eccentric style. I’ve never found any merit to that accusation but this is the first film where there just might be. Could that be linked to Anderson’s solo screenplay? Again, I don’t know. What I do know is that there were parts of this film that really worked and after a second viewing I definitely began to appreciate the film more. At first “The Grand Budapest Hotel” didn’t fully work for me. It definitely comes more into focus the more times you see it.

VERDICT – 4 STARS

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32 thoughts on “REVIEW: “The Grand Budapest Hotel”

  1. Wow Keith, I’m really surprised because I thought this movie was terrific and very funny. I do come at it from a different perspective than you. I am not a true fan although I have seen a few of Anderson’s films before. Maybe it just felt fresher to me than it did to you. Most of the touches that you mentioned are accurate, but I laughed at the crude interjections in the middle of pointless poetry or the oddball reference while the surroundings were elegant or the elegant behavior when the surroundings were odd. This is maybe by second favorite film of the year after the Lego Movie. I guess I’ll have to look up some of your reviews of his other work. I have an extensive review up, I just saw it last week as well. Maybe you can see the differences in our perspective that way. I hope to see this many times in the future, maybe after each time I can come back and add a reason or two that I liked it better than you did. Sorry you were let down, I was delighted.

    • I think it did have its funny moments. But overall I didn’t think it had enough humor that worked to the point of me calling it a truly funny movie. I think most people did enjoy it more than me.

  2. Good review Keith. Not my favorite Anderson movie, but definitely the only one of his I’ll see myself checking out from time to time again, just to sit down and have a good time. Not get all emotional and thoughtful like I get with his other movies.

  3. I can feel your disenchantment with Grand Budapest Keith, when I first left this one I actually didn’t really much care for it at all. It left me emotionally indifferent. Could have been because I also had built my expectations up to an impossible height and they were not met of course, or it could have been a case of a movie being so good that it takes awhile to sink in. That became true for me. I now love it. But it’s not Anderson’s warmest and fuzziest, I’ll say that

    • Maybe that will be the case with me. I don’t know though. I really struggled with the issues mentioned. All of that said I still always appreciate Anderson and what he does.

  4. Your first sentence could have been mine. I had high hopes with this film, and agree with your assessment that it lacked that deeper connection between the characters. I rather like his absurd loud color schemes and the over-the-top orchestrated scene set ups. I love the guy, and I think I liked this more than you, probably because I’m forgiving of his faults and focus in on what’s great.

    • I like all of those things you mentioned. Those are what Wes Anderson brings to his movies that make them unique and special. I just don’t think this was a really good movie as a whole. Terribly disappointed. I am anxious to give it another shot though.

  5. I loved Grand Budapest Hotel. I thought the underlying emotional theme was about being an outcast and how people form weird little families of their own when they don’t fit into “society”.

  6. Aww bummer. I actually had more connection w/ the Zero character here, both young n old, and F Murray Abraham’s performance was quite moving. Seems that we have the opposite reaction to this one and“The Darjeeling Limited.” I can’t wait to revisit this one again.

    • Yep, I was pretty disappointed. I didn’t like Anderson’s crass humor and I just never found that deeper emotional thread that always runs through Anderson’s pictures. It left me a bit cold. For me it was a beautiful movie with scattered scenes of humor but little that really attracted me to it. But as is often the case, I’m in the minority here! 😀

    • Oh it’s not that I didn’t like it. I gave it a recommendation. I just don’t think it holds up with Anderson’s other work. For me the faults were pretty big. But I still plan on giving it another look.

  7. i totally agree with lack of emotional depth in characters. but i somehow feel that for every wes anderson film; i find his characters to be too flat. i wish they were as rich and engaging in detail as the filmic worlds he creates.

    • That’s an interesting perspective. I’ve always thought that Anderson’s characters serve the material well. They have just enough layers to them to tell the broader story. This film had that in small spurts. But ultimately for me it became a series of small quirky threads minus Anderson’s normal and effective emotional thread.

  8. I never feel any emotional components in this guy’s movies so I’m kinda used to being left cold. I’ll definitely see this one for Fiennes, it’s so rare to see him in comedy.

  9. Shame you were left a bit disappointed with this one mate. I agree it did lack a little emotional involvement at times, but I saw it more of a caper film, and as such felt the character development wasn’t quite as important this time around.

    • I felt parts of it were a caper film. I never really found it to be any one thing in its entirety. A heist movie, a murder mystery, a zany comedy, an underdeveloped romance. To me it could have used a single thread for all of those things to connect to.

  10. I definitely like this more than you do. 1. I think it hilarious, one of his funniest movies ever. And 2. I think it plenty emotionally resonant (the way it speeds through Ronan and Fiennes’ characters fates notwithstanding).

    • Wow. One of the funniest ever? That is high praise. I think I was expecting that but I spent more time than I expected stone-faced. And I was really looking for some type of emotional value – something that would bring these characters a purpose beyond being objects of oddball comedy. It may be unfair of me to expect that from Anderson instead of just taking the movie for what it is.

      • I don’t think it is unfair. I just found that emotional value. The way Gustav loves Zero. The way Dafoe’a character scares everyone. The way Ronan’s character stays so pure no matter what happens. The way Zero looks back at the old days. Etc.

        Did the flick make me cry? No. But there was enough emotional pay off that I thought it meaningful.

    • Thanks man. Once again I find myself in the minority on a movie. Ha Ha. The vast majority of people really responded to this film and perhaps my take will be a little different when I watch it a second time. But my issues were pretty definitive so I don’t know if that will be the case but I’m certainly willing to give it another shot.

  11. Enjoyed reading your thoughts on Grand Budapest Hotel, Keith. I’m a big Wes Anderson fan as well and I also feel like my especially high expectations weren’t met this time around. I still enjoyed it – as you say, all of the typical Anderson visual and stylistic elements were there – but the “heart” seemed somewhat lacking for me. Great review.

    • I’m really glad to hear from someone who had the same experience. I really wanted to LOVE this movie but I came away a little cold. I do still appreciate many things about it but it certainly isn’t my favorite Anderson film.

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