Wes Anderson’s ‘Grand Budapest Hotel’ Needs More Old Lady Banging, Less ‘Plot’
We are all Wes Anderson fanboys and girls here, and if you are not, kindly eat a cock. So we have all read all the reviews explaining Anderson’s luscious new Grand Budapest Hotel, and how he is a man out of time. But what we have not read, because nobody has written it yet, is somebody explicating our wan disappointment in what happens when Anderson gets Madcap, and Zany, and aims for Screwball Intrigue. Once again, our work is never done.
Let us get the superlatives out of the way up front, because it is not like Grand Budapest Hotel is a total loss, like Marrakesh Peace Train or whatever that was. And it should go without saying that we’re bitching because we love.
Here are the marvelous parts of Grand Budapest Hotel, which, again, we are not saying you shouldn’t see, as it is full of charm and delight and beauty and funny jokes that are hilarious.
First, it’s as beautiful to look at as always — maybe more so — with Anderson’s patented intentionally clunky symmetry, always with his characters in the middle of every frame. The elegant old hotel is a character in itself, the “Old World attention to detail” (especially if those details involve creampuffs) you’ve already read about elsewhere. Its alpen setting is terrifying, with Anderson pushing us up mile-high funniculars and over vengeful chasms. Its characters are as weird and fucked up and well-meaning as any Tenenbaum (or Glass), except the baddies, who are deliciously bad (Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe).
But start with the narrative framing: we get a matryoshka doll of uninvolved characters leading us back in time, starting with a girl in beret (because of course) who has nothing to do with anything but points us to the statue of the Author, who goes back in time to become Jude Law, who has really nothing to do with the story except have dinner with F. Murray Abraham (who’s marvelous — weary and rumbly and soul-sad and proud) and hear the tale of his boyhood as a displaced person/lobby boy/protege to Ralph Fiennes’s all-knowing and universally competent Concierge in the grand hotel.
It’s unnecessarily complicated for the sake of its own tweeness (though Jude Law is lookin’ fine again, which is its own reward).
But a far worse offense than the framing device is the plot itself. We should be wandering the staircases and peeping in keyholes to watch the dashing Mr. Fiennes make love to all the rich old biddies — whom he unironically adores — and we do, for a truly delightful half hour or so. But then we get a Murrrrrrderrrrrr. And then a prison escape. And then a motorcycle chase. Off a ski jump. And some extra Murrrrrrderrrrrs. And it all becomes rather like the time we stayed up all night on acid and then went to a morning showing of something we thought would be a fluffy little teen romance to transition into our day and ended up with car chases and murders and … mobsters maybe? … and Plot, and all these years later, go fuck yourself, Mystery Date.
What’s lost in all that plot? A sense of any of the characters beyond Zero (the lobby boy, a brave cipher); the outrageously fey (bisexual? NO ONE KNOWS!) concierge, M. Gustave; and a tiny bit of Zero’s ladylove (Saoirse Ronan), whose character is “purehearted” and “a good pastry chef.” Brody slinks through wonderfully; Dafoe is too actually frightening for a Wes Anderson movie; and everyone else in the known universe shows up for a quick cameo. But the best of Anderson’s films (TENENBAUMS) are all about the love for the people in them, no matter how frigid or emotionally constipated or shady criminals or needing rehab they are. Grand Budapest Hotel, despite its surfeit of the best actors the universe has to offer, feels adrift, silent for all its frenzied action, and unmanned.