Directed by: Wes Anderson || Produced by: Wes Anderson, Jeremy Dawson, Steven M. Rales, Scott Rudin
Screenplay by: Wes Anderson || Starring: Ralph Fiennes, F. Murray Abraham, Tony Revolori, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Saonoirse Ronan, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Edward Norton, Mathieu Amalric, Jude Law, Jason Schwartzman
Music by: Alexandre Desplat || Cinematography by: Robert Yeoman || Edited by: Barney Pilling || Country: United States, Germany, United Kingdom || Language: English
Running Time: 99 minutes
Wes Anderson is one of those artsy, idiosyncratic filmmakers who’s hard to not like. While he employs many of the trademark characteristics and done-to-death filmmaking cliches of independent American (and foreign) dramatic film (e.g. dysfunctional families, emphasis on eccentric misfits and social outcasts, snarky humor, etc.), he uses all these standards in his own, unique, Wes-Anderson-type way and without an ounce of the usual cynicism and pretentiousness that tends to come in heavy doses with other indie films that play to similar demographics, such as The Kids Are Alright (2010), Nebraska (2014), Juno (2007), or this year’s critical darling Boyhood (2014).
With that said, a big problem with Anderson is that there isn’t much variation at all in that likable cinematic style of his. He pretty much has one formulaic approach to screenwriting and uses the same exact visual tone and style for every film he makes. If you’ve seen one Wes Anderson film, you’ve essentially seen them all. The only thing that changes from project to project or that differentiates something like Rushmore (1998) from something like Moonrise Kingdom (2012) is the precision of the execution of that style, not a drastically different approach to that style itself or a different cinematic tone altogether.
As such, if you’ve seen any of Anderson’s films before, you know what to expect from his latest one, Grand Budapest Hotel: Lots of cartoony, playful imagery and flat camera angles, wry but clever humor, eccentric characters, and oddly gruesome implied (but rarely shown) violence. The good news with this Anderson flick is that it’s a well-made picture even for his intelligent high standards and will please most everybody the same as the best of his filmography. The story is well paced and efficient given its typical, short Anderson running-time of 90-some minutes, the gags are clever, and Anderson uses pretty much every starring actor he’s ever worked with in his entire career from Jason Schwartzman to Bill Murry to Owen Wilson to Edward Norton, as well as featuring new faces in Ralph Fiennes and Tony Revolori.
Speaking of those new faces, Fiennes and Revolori have good chemistry like most Anderson leads, which does much to make the story flow and maximizes the laughs and occasional more somber moments far better than those two little twerps did in Moonrise Kingdom. Most of the supporting cast is made up of brief but semi-memorable cameos, yet a few name-brand stars have somewhat larger, funnier roles like Jeff Goldblum, Willem Dafoe, and of course Adrien Brody as the film’s antagonist.
Overall, the film is a bit more melodramatic and violent than most Anderson films, but again everything is tongue-and-cheek and extremely farcical like one would expect. The narrative itself is largely unimportant and secondary next to the main characters and their development — again, like most every movie Anderson’s ever made it. It’s more about the journey and the people in it than the destination or thematic “point” behind all the adventure. Most people who are searching for deeper social or political commentary, however overt or subtle, I feel are largely missing the point when it comes to GBH and most of Anderson’s cinematic style — the artistic message or thematic “moral” behind the movie is largely embodied within the characters themselves and them alone. Extrapolating anything else from GBH and Anderson’s filmography as a whole is overthinking it.
In summary, Anderson remains one of sidestream American filmmaking’s most entertaining and likable directors for good reason. His 2014 Grand Budapest Hotel is one of the funniest and delightfully quirky films to come out this year, featuring solid characterizations, a healthy amount of charismatic and witty Anderson dialogue, and a refreshing lack of stereotypical indie snobbishness. Anderson will likely die a filmmaker that’s hard to hate no matter what he produces, as eccentric and bizarre but warmhearted as the characters he writes. GBH isn’t terribly complex, nor is the humor ever truly sidesplitting, and yes, the personable characters themselves are mostly recycled from well established Andersonian canon too, but that’s all OK here. Anderson just keeps doing what he does best, and hopefully one of these days one of the major Awards circuits (cough! the Oscars! cough!) will finally bone up and give him the mainstream credit he deserves. If past is prologue, though, none of us should be holding our breath in anticipation of Anderson’s long-awaited mainstream recognition, and that’s a shame.
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: Anderson stocks Grand Budapest Hotel full of likable, relatable characters lead by fine performances from Fiennes and Revolori. The characters are the stars of the show as they should be in any typical Anderson comedy-adventure. Though recycled from his previous (and sometimes better) films, Anderson’s trademark visuals fit the wacky story the way no other directorial style could. Few films have more fun being goofy than this one.
— However… many cameos are underwhelming and feel thrown in simply for nostalgia purposes. The story is none too memorable itself and none of the characters (including its two main leads) are particularly deep or complex.
? How does a very Latino Revolori grow up to be a very white-looking F. Murray Abraham? I don’t know what sort of cream he’s using, but I want some!