Rated R for language and sexuality, involving some nudity. It's all within the attitude of Wes Anderson. It's still somewhat vulgar, but it's done very briefly, often while being tongue-in-cheek. There's also some violence and racism, but Anderson is making more of a comment on such racism. There's some murder and some disfigurement. You know, the more I write about this, the more I realize that there's some slightly grizzly stuff in this movie. Regardless, R.
DIRECTOR: Wes Anderson
I don't know why I can't write right now. It just seems like such a daunting task right now. I know that if I quit, I'll spiral even deeper into a depression because I won't have a daily goal. I even have a lot of thoughts on this movie. When I first started teaching my film class, I had two students in that class that came into the class (say "class" one more time) with The Grand Budapest Hotel as their favorite. Part of me got really excited when I heard that. After all, when I watched Grand Budapest, I thought it was a return to form for Wes Anderson after a handful of "meh" movies. (Even his "meh" movies are fine.) But I also really want to preach some of the more old school Wes Anderson vehicles, like The Royal Tenenbaums and Bottle Rocket. It's because I'm an old man now and I want the kids to like what I like. (I had to tweezer away the longest eyebrow hair today. I've crossed a threshold.)
The thing is, the kids had a point. While I will probably always love The Royal Tenenbaums as my favorite Anderson entry, The Grand Budapest Hotel might be Anderson's Avengers: Endgame. It's really the phrase that kept going through my head, much to Martin Scorsese's chagrin. In terms of scope and storytelling, it feels like his biggest film by far. Couple that with the fact that everyone's in this movie. I think you have almost the entire title cast of The Darjeeling Limited in it. It goes out of its way to find roles for people that he likes. I can see why this one was up for Best Picture because it ticks a lot of boxes. It's so interesting thinking that Anderson could somehow get more absurd than he has in other films, but he succeeds. Anderson traditionally tells twee stories about small conflicts that become big. Two people in love over a woman. A father trying to get back in good graces with his family. Three brothers trying to reconnect. Grand Budapest does the personal elements of a story while making Zero's environment something larger than life.
The Darjeeling Limited was another movie named after the setting. I like the title Darjeeling Limited, but it doesn't technically encapsulate the movie. It's really the vehicle that gets them to the story. When the train is removed from the story, it really blends into the background. I want to contrast that with the titular hotel, The Grand Budapest Hotel. While the protagonists spend quite a bit of time away from the hotel, it looms over the characters at all moments. It's a setting that defines the needs of the character. M. Gustave is entirely defined by his role as the manager of this estate. The concept of the hotel reflects an almost noble or royal lineage, despite that M. Gustave is the equivalent of one of the servants of Downton Abbey. Zero never questions this obsession. His interview is very telling to his character. That response establishes the impact that the hotel has over the world at large. As war encroaches the country, it is almost a secondary consequence that it will ravage the people of the town. Instead, the hotel is this piece of art that will be sullied by the violence of men.
There's one thing that I might the only one who is confused by it. There's a funny bit throughout the film. Really, the story is a flashback within a flashback within a flashback. The story starts with someone sitting at the memorial statue of a deceased author. The movie then flashes back to 1985, with an elderly version of the author explaining how he met the owner of the Grand Budapest Hotel. It then flashes back again to the author interviewing an elderly Zero, who tells the story of how he gained The Grand Budapest Hotel. Anderson then finally flashes back for a final time to show Zero as a young man, a lobby boy at the Grand Budapest. The majority of the movie is focused on Zero's time as a Lobby Boy. Anderson uses a 4:3 aspect ratio to stress that this takes place in the past. Spike Lee would do the same in Da 5 Bloods. (This makes looking for aspect appropriate stills for this blog especially frustrating, but it makes the movie gorgeous.) The logical part of me should just chalk it up to absurdity. After all, there's a lot of absurdity in Anderson's films. It's just that there's a lot of money being spent to get the hotel into different levels of quality seems really expensive. Like, really expensive. Perhaps it is to give a greater sense of importance. Instead of just being a movie set a long time ago, it gives it a sense of continuity. I'll never take the joke away from that flashback sequence, but it also cements it in a time period. Considering that the hotel itself represents a legacy, it's interesting to see how the hotel ages over time. But the hotel isn't even in all of the time periods. It's only in the final two time period. We see the aging of the bust, but not the hotel itself. It's actually unlikely that The Grand Budapest has survived into the present, seeing how the aging Zero views the hotel.
Much of The Grand Budapest Hotel rests on its charm versus its story. The story is complex, but that just makes it more interesting. Because Anderson is so quietly bonkers, it really can go in any direction. There's nothing that really stops the movie ending in the middle. But "Boy With Apple" makes a great Macguffin for this story that allows the characters to be fleshed out. I normally complain about characters being developed by the character telling us his faults. But Anderson both shows and tells how these characters interact. That's what I'm talking about "Boy with Apple". The painting forces M. Gustave to act against his dialogue. It's pretty fantastic. Anderson's characters often have this grandiose persona that is easily washed away by base desires. But Gustave is both is character that he presents and this guy who doesn't mind letting the curtain fall from time to time.
But my students were right. This movie is really great. There's a lot going on for a Wes Anderson piece. It's got this great setting as a foundation and he milks every element out of it. I love that the movie is about M. Gustave, but Zero is technically the protagonist. He's Nick Carraway from The Great Gatsby, but with a goofier background to it. I loved this rewatch. I'm sure if someone really fought me, I could bend on The Royal Tenenbaums in exchange for Grand Budapest. If it was one of his earlier films, I would be jumping on board this movie every time.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.