Saturday, April 5, 2014

The Cinema File #330: "The Grand Budapest Hotel" Review


One might reasonably argue that it is unfair to criticize a director like Wes Anderson for a too liberal application of whimsy, considering how essential this tonal flourish is to his work, so much so that he has become synonymous with its use. While that may be the case, I simply can't resist, because I just wasted almost two hours of my life being smothered to death in the too clever by half world of The Grand Budapest Hotel, and having barely survived with my wits intact, I can only marvel at the fact that this once wunderkind auteur has managed to climb even farther up into his own asshole than ever before. If you love Wes Anderson, you will no doubt consider this new effort one of the best of his career if not the best film he's ever made. Because you are a stupid person, and I pity you.


Okay, right off the bat, I have to apologize. I don't ordinarily like to consign whole swaths of people into maligned categories based solely on their taste in art, but if you'll forgive me some momentary frustration, after so many bites at this pretentiously esoteric apple, I'm beginning to feel the need to find someone to blame for these movies beyond the writer/director himself. Like all hacks, he knows not what he does, assuming that by the praise he receives he is doing something worthwhile with his life by polluting our popular culture with stylish garbage. At some point, the people who reward this stuff, and even more so those who simply pretend to enjoy it purely for the hipster cache of doing so, have to be held accountable. But I'm getting ahead of myself.


The Grand Budapest Hotel is the story of a little girl mourning the loss of her nation's greatest author. Oh wait, no, its the story of said author, reading one of his most famous novels while trying to dodge the BB gun shots of an adolescent boy. Oh wait, no, its the story of that story within the story, of the author as a young man interviewing an enigmatic hotel magnate as the source for his latest book. Oh wait, no, its the story of said hotel magnate's young life as a lobby boy and right hand man to a rakish playboy concierge and would-be art thief. I think that's it. One wonders if the director's cut won't expand outward from this story within a story within a story within a story just one more time, to see me in the theater watching it all unfold, choking to death on one too many fucking frame stories!


But surely, you say, this convoluted nesting doll of a plot has some sort of point. Well, consider yourself lucky for apparently having never seen a Wes Anderson movie, and thus having cause to even ask that question, as if anything in a Wes Anderson movie ever means anything. Of course, they aren't meaningless in the same way, say, a David Lynch movie is meaningless, piling on weird imagery for the sake of weird imagery hoping you won't notice that nothing is actually happening. Well, okay, Anderson does that too I suppose, but unlike Lynch, Anderson takes it one step further, substituting pretty for strange and maintaining the false pretense that he actually gives a crap about story and character independent of his tableaus that sometimes incidentally move around a bit. This is perhaps more entertaining in the short term, but also more insidious when you realize you've been hoodwinked.


And The Grand Budapest Hotel, both as a location and as a film, is admittedly very pretty to look at, and moves around a bit more than probably any of Anderson's previous films save perhaps his first one Bottle Rocket, but the futility of it all is only made more manifest with the increased energy. At least when he was simply creating potentially interesting eccentric characters and then doing nothing with them, I could sit back and imagine the story they could have been in if he'd bothered with one. Now that there is a plot, we see how little he cares about it, using it as he does everything else, simply as window dressing for the Wes Anderson aesthetic on display. The attempt at madcap farce is initially endearing owed in no small part to the charm of Ralph Fiennes, but it grates faster than a trail of elusive instructions by a series of clandestine monks.


Grand Budapest is clearly and unapologetically the most Wes Anderson-y movie Wes Anderson has ever made, a self-indulgent celebration of all things Wes Anderson served on a gilded plate directly to the audience of insufferable douche nozzles who oh so love everything he puts his precocious little mind to. It is a tribute to a style and to a fan base that I despise with every fiber of my being, a hoity toity Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back for people who go to little one screen theaters that serve wine with their shitty stale popcorn because the multiplex down the road is just too pedestrian for their refined tastes and lack of a car to actually drive anywhere. I'd describe it as "inside baseball" if I thought that metaphor would have any meaning to the effete wimps to whom this movie is designed to appeal. At least when Tarrantino employs this kind of style over substance approach we get Nazis and racists exploding, and I for one don't think that that's too much to ask for.
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