Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Grand Budapest Hotel Check Out

My relationship with Wes Anderson's films is starting to feel needlessly complicated. I could easily just end this one-sided, loveless affair by not seeing anymore of his movies - as I haven't particularly enjoyed them for some time. But for some reason I'm compelled to view them all, and the results have become invariably the same: I am left empty.

At this point I don't really blame Anderson, because when you purchase a ticket for one of his movies you should know by now what you're getting. You know how scenes will be framed and how dialogue will be delivered. You know the whimsy levels will be redlined and that at some point Bill Murray will enter the picture and everyone around you will roar in laughter at nothing in particular. 

Anderson is a true artist in his craft and I respect how he makes the films he wants exactly the way he envisions, while existing (profitably) in the Hollywood mainstream. In other words he's an auteur, of which very few seem to remain in American cinema. The Grand Budapest Hotel is not a film shooting for broad appeal; it's the successful realization of a director's unique vision. 

That vision - part of his alternate universe - creates a place that I can't stay for long because the absurdity, at least for me, eventually becomes exhaustive and predictable. 

The main character in "GBH" is Ralph Fiennes, a vamping 1930s hotel worker with a penchant for wealthy older woman (and men?) who does things like serve delicate pastries to fellow inmates after he is wrongly incarcerated for stealing a priceless painting. After escaping, he is chased through Europe by a screwball version of the Nazis as all of Anderson's talented regulars show up in one capacity or another. Yet none - neither Bill Murray nor Owen Wilson - are able to give the film a notable lift. 

The Grand Budapest Hotel, as seen in the movie's poster above, is presented with light pinks and one dimensionality - like a giant dollhouse - and this is exactly how the director treats what's inside. I half expect Anderson's hand to enter the picture to open a window so that we may see Ed Norton (playing something like an SS officer) deliver his clipped lines or Zero (Fiennes' brooding bell boy shadow) stare wide-eyed straight into the camera. 

I deeply appreciate Anderson's romance with a lost European world of elegance and the literature of WW2 survivor Stefan Zweig, who inspired this film. But how could such an emotionally-charged story like Zweig's lead to a film so resiliently detached? It's like there's always a whimsy wall between the film and viewer, and all you can do is sit and titter at the silliness going on on the other side.

That being said, I fully expect to be behind that wall again in a couple years when Anderson's next feature roles out. If you're a fan of cinema, he's a compelling figure. 

In case you haven't seen SNL's near-perfect send-up of Anderson movies, I've posted it below. To say "they nailed it" would be a criminal understatement.  

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