Dave Finally Watches: The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

I say “finally” watches because this has been in the theaters for a couple of weeks now (I was surprised that it hadn’t been shoved out to open up another screen for Captain Hobbit: The Hunger Transformer) and I hadn’t seen it. That’s unusual for a Wes Anderson joint, but we’ve been ill or busy so this was our first real opportunity.

I enjoyed it a bunch, though it’s a pretty slight movie. It’s more of a straight-up comedy than the more heavy-hitting Anderson movies are, but that’s fine. It’s got exactly what you’d expect from a Wes Anderson movie except there’s no Kinks on the soundtrack; not much new ground is tread here. That’s the problem, really. This is a perfectly fine movie, but Wes Anderson can make this movie in his sleep. After Moonrise Kingdom I was hoping we were seeing Anderson stretch himself out a bit, but this is a contraction.

It’s also maddening that, when you look at the poster above, which features 17 characters that work their way down to some that only have a handful of moments in the movie, only three of them are women, and of those three, only one has significant screen time, and even she does little except be someone’s girlfriend and be admired by someone else. Is it really that hard to write women into these movies? Then again, there are three women in this one movie. African-Americans are still 1 for 8 as far as entire Wes Anderson movies that have a single one in a somewhat important role.

But that, I suppose, is one of the unfortunate things you can expect to get in a Wes Anderson movie, along with the sets, the themes, the soundtrack, and many of the actors.

At any rate, this got me wondering about where I’d put The Grand Budapest Hotel as far as Anderson movies go. Here’s how I’d rate them.

The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
Rushmore (1998)
Bottle Rocket (1996)
Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)
The Life Aquatic (2004)
The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
The Darjeeling Limited (2007)

That may seem harsh, second-worst, but keep in mind that I’m a pretty shameless Wes Anderson fanboy, and I’d rather see my least-favorite of his movies again than a lot of “top pick” movies from other folks.

There’s nothing not to like about the Grand Budapest Hotel, but there’s also not a lot there. It just sort of happens. And it also has the same problem that I feel Life Aquatic has, which is it feels like it started out as one thing but ended up as another, and amid all the wacky hijinks you can sort of see traces of the original thing there which seem more interesting and heartfelt than what ended up getting emphasized. The Hotel, the thing the movie is named for, doesn’t nearly have the presence or character that the movie seems to think it has. We see it at its apogee and perigee but no story is really told about it, despite some vestigial traces of that story that were left in. Likewise, the story of Zero is sort of seen, but again it got pushed aside for something else. It’s wrong to criticize a work for what you wish it was, but this movie constantly teases a movie that could have been and replaces it with an entertaining yet by-the-numbers, more shallow substitute.

It’s especially disappointing after Moonrise Kingdom, which hit its high notes so well that one forgets about a lot of the unnecessary silliness that accompanied them. With Grand Budapest Hotel, it’s the opposite effect: whatever strong moments it offers are drowned out by the too-easy goofs.

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