Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel: A Marzipan Monstrosity

Categories: Film and TV

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Greetings from the 64th annual Berlin Film Festival, where it’s a surprisingly balmy 10 degrees Celsius (50 degrees Fahrenheit). The weather here may not be business as usual, but the festival looks promising -- the competition includes films by Alain Resnais, Lou Ye, Yoji Yamada, and Claudia Llosa (whose odd and rather wonderful picture The Milk of Sorrow won the top prize here, the Golden Bear, in 2009). But first things first: The festival kicks off this evening with Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel, also in competition. It was screened for the press this afternoon, but not at the Berlinale Palast, the spacious and accommodating Potsdamer Platz venue where most of the big-ticket action takes place. It was shown instead in a smaller theater nearby, which filled up quickly. The overflow was directed to a second theater in the same complex, but before long we critics and journalists were nestled in comfortably, like mice snuggled in cotton wool, for an afternoon of Anderson’s follies.

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Though I have tried many times over the years to like, or even just appreciate, Anderson’s films, with the exception of the work-of-genius Fantastic Mr. Fox, they elude me every time. The Grand Budapest Hotel strikes me as even less of a good thing, although, as its title suggests, it’s Anderson’s most elaborate, lavish-looking picture yet. The framing device for this marzipan monstrosity features an older writer from some fictitious Central European locale, played by Tom Wilkinson, reflecting on his younger days, when he was Jude Law. It was 1968, and our writer friend was camping out at a formerly luxurious, now down-at-the-heels hotel in the Republic of Zubrowka, which was, as a title card tells us in an emphatic parenthetical, “once the seat of an empire.” There he meets a mysterious older gent, Mr. Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham), who may be the hotel’s owner. The two sit down to a lavish dinner in the hotel dining room, a storybook stag mural looming nobly behind them. Mr. Moustafa unravels a woolly tale involving the finest concierge he ever knew, a rather unapologetic gigolo by the name of M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) who, in more prosperous prewar days, ran the hotel with the utmost in genteel efficiency. With his decorous bearing and penchant for ornate poetry, Gustave also courted the favors of a number of rich dowagers, among them Madame D. (Tilda Swinton), a wrinkled nervous wreck dressed in velvet robes straight out of Gustav Klimt.

What happens, as Anderson reveals through his static, deadpan camera lens, involves a priceless painting, a protégé, and a stint in prison, where a shirtless Harvey Keitel appears, his sagging flesh adorned with tattoos so crude Lena Dunham might have sketched them. Never let it be said that Anderson skimps on the details. There’s more: a sweet-natured baker whose cheek bears a birthmark in the shape of Mexico (Saoirse Ronan); the delightfully impish Mathieu Amalric in a thankless role as a loyal servant; and Adrien Brody, who has stolen Jean Cocteau’s hair to play Dmitri, Madame D.’s ungrateful, evil son. Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Owen Wilson, Willem Dafoe, and Jeff Goldblum all step forward to get a light dusting of Andersonia as well.

It’s all so tiny and adorable, in its grandiose way. Anderson is occasionally capable of making me giggle –- Wilson’s character is named M. Chuck, which is just silly, but I laughed. Plus, Anderson is a master at casting just the right actor for each of these willfully absurd characters. (Fiennes seems to be having fun with his role -- its overstated curlicues are actually pretty subtle in his hands.) But why doesn’t any of this glittering incident seem to matter? It’s quite possible that fans of Anderson, the corduroy visionary, will love it. But The Grand Budapest Hotel brought out my inner Hunca Munca, of Two Bad Mice fame: This meticulously appointed dollhouse of a movie just went on and on, making me want to smash many miniature plates of plaster food in frustration. I would apologize afterward, of course, because I’m that kind of mouse. But not even the jaunty, percussive score by Alexandre Desplat left a mark: Too much of it sounds recycled from the truly great score Desplat wrote for Fantastic Mr. Fox. Once again, Anderson has left me unmoved. If I weren’t in such a good mood, and looking forward to the rest of what the Berlinale has to offer, I’d ask you to please pass me that diminutive plate of fake turkey, so that I may dash it to the ground.

Follow Stephanie Zacharek on Twitter at @szacharek


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23 comments
DavidFoureyes
DavidFoureyes topcommenter

"Though I have tried many times over the years to like, or even just appreciate, Anderson’s films,"


From next week's edition:


"Though I have tried many times over the years to like, or even just appreciate, cauliflower, I still hate it and so here is my review of cauliflower."

Matt Schieffer
Matt Schieffer

This is true but that could be anything.. I mean. .a desert that is too sweet is still something you devour and crave afterwards, no?

Matt Schieffer
Matt Schieffer

Their problem is evident: they are looking at these Anderson works expecting a film like any other. It's not really a film it's more of an exhibit, like you'd see at a museum. You aren't supposed to be enthralled by everything you see or hear but rather what stirs your imagination having witnessed it. I a great example would be the Romanov exhibit at the Russian Museum of Art (I think it ended yesterday). Is she going to go there and complain that they didn't produce Nicholas II and his family on the spot and instead have a bunch of their personal effects? Come on.

HB Radke
HB Radke

terrible review. no real critique, just autobiographical admission professional incompetence. a review should allow the reader to know what the experience of watching a given performance is like, illustrated by objective remarks about technical aspects.

David Frank
David Frank

Why would a reviewer or Media Outlet write about a genre or type of film that they do not like. It does not reach the demographic for people who are interested in the film. So in reality this review is written to no one. I always laugh when I read a line that says "I hate these type of films". Don't waste my time then, give it to someone who does appreciate that genre. That way when a bad review comes in it will actually have meaning.

Thomas Wallin
Thomas Wallin

A Wes Anderson film tries too hard to be funny. The sweetness is cloying. The actors act like over-encouraged small children. Just my opinion.

Kessler Dänger
Kessler Dänger

Why are you critiquing a movie by a director you've "never gotten"?

George Adam
George Adam

Everyone has tastes and preferences and film critics are entitled to liking or disliking movies. A professionally written critique, however, should include more than repeating how annoyed she is.

Donna Walch
Donna Walch

Stephanie Zacharek is notorious for not liking ANY movies, to the point where I think it is more her being purposefully obstinate or contrarian for the sake of it, rather than her truly forming an opinion on a movie.

David Purcell
David Purcell

"Though I have tried many times over the years to like, or even just appreciate, Anderson’s films, with the exception of the work-of-genius Fantastic Mr. Fox, they elude me every time." Your loss, lady. And you should have just ended the review there.

Stephany Achter
Stephany Achter

Well really, what sort of review are we to expect from someone who didn't expect to like the film in the first place?

murderkroger
murderkroger

@juan_samuel Whenever something new comes out, I ignore the reviews. I have a decent idea of what I'm getting and I'm there for it.

BKerk
BKerk

It does strike me as a little odd to run a review of a film by a director that the critic admits, up front, to not liking. Kind of like, would you assign a critic who just doesn't "get" spicy food to review the new Szechuan restaurant down the block? I mean, I don't, after reading this, actually know why Ms. Zacharek didn't like the movie, other than her general dislike for his aesthetic to begin with. I'm not even sure this a review or just a personal essay on her feelings about Wes Anderson in general.

Ginger Ammon
Ginger Ammon

The title seems a bit harsh next to the review that follows it. Does she really think it's a monstrosity? Does that word not mean what I think it means?

udhq
udhq

Why would a reviewer make the point of saying someone's not a genius?

juan_samuel
juan_samuel

@murderkroger I hadn't watched Rushmore in a loooong time and just watched it recently. Such a good time.

murderkroger
murderkroger

@juan_samuel oops. Last tweet should have read "people say he's twee af and idc idc idc" I like my Kool-Aid red

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