Let’s get it out first off that I don’t like Wes Anderson’s films much. It’s not his pale-colored and embroidered walls, his purposefully stage-play like set design, or even his camera shots which zoom in and out, pointed right at the characters faces or down straight at a newspaper, no… it’s his characters. The people who populate a Wes Anderson film are some of the most infuriating, cripplingly awkward, mean-spirited, clumsy, and downright stupid human beings I may have ever witnessed on a cinema screen. I could not imagine spending more than 10 minutes in the same room as a single Wes Anderson character without either 1) killing said character or 2) killing myself.
Now that we got that out of the way, The Grand Budapest Hotel is probably the best Wes Anderson film ever. I know that’s not saying much coming from me especially after that diatribe you just read, but there is a reason why I found myself in favor with this movie than the typical Wes Anderson offering. First, because I’m a guilty sucker for tall tales in foreign lands. That’s essentially what this script boils down to… it’s a story within a novel within a film. It’s a fairytale in a non-existent country (but European for certain) about a magnificent luxurious hotel in the snow-capped mountains, which the lobby boy Zero Mostel definitively states as “an institution”. This is the first time where I’m not forced into considering an Anderson story that is set in the ‘real world’ (a private school campus, suburban neighborhoods, camping sites) and yet is marked with such an absurd and phony set of designs and characters that it leaves me stranded. From the get-go we are informed by Anderson that this whole Grand Budapest charade is completely made up (fake country, fake ethnicities, fake names) and it’s all fun and games and we just get to sit back and watch the epic story unfold. Nobody in Grand Budapest is really from anywhere, they are a hodgepodge of accents and tastes, some British, others French, and the dark skinned lobby boy Zero Mostel (what a name) has a purely American suburbia accent even though he’s from some Arabic city (he mumbles it so fast no one can pick up on it… or maybe that’s the point).
The epic scale of the film really lends itself to being more than about the characters. Similar to Anderson’s other better offering, Fantastic Mr. Fox, here we get a legal battle, crime, murder, an attempted prison escape, among other plot-points that help push the story along. This also allows Anderson to dilute his characters’ personalities to fit a more ambitious project and not dwell on their quirks, which works wonders for people like me. That doesn’t excuse the film from still being rather tawdry for lengths of time however. There has never been much density to the plots of Anderson films, and there can’t be when he concentrates so much on how the surroundings look and jettisoning the camera from here to there with fast cuts, zooms, and speedy tracking shots bouncing from one place to another. It’s a Cirque du Soleil kind of performance that the camera is pulling and that leaves almost no room for any substance to permeate onto the screen and into the story. That’s just as well however because if he did try to add in some depth it might have well ended up as sappy and irritating as Moonrise Kingdom.