Checking Out of The Grand Budapest Hotel

I watched The Grand Budapest Hotel with Bobo last night and after we got back and I was lying down, I couldn’t sleep because I really just needed to scream my opinion of the film somewhere. So I posted a FB “review” and went to sleep. I woke up this morning and deleted it. I only used to do this for emo Facebook statuses posted in the dead of the night which I almost always instantly regretted in the morning (sometimes, I used to dream the regret). Maybe, given how I’ve been so abused as an audience member in the theatre lately, all that negative emotional energy has transferred into my relationships with people’s work.

The post in question went something like this:

“After watching that white line video, I was incredibly distracted during TGBH. Consequently or otherwise, I did not enjoy the movie. 

At times, it felt like a cheap French and Saunders parody of Wes Anderson movies. At other times, it felt like a chocolate buffet I once went to, at the end of which I didn’t know if I could distinguish between the Varlhona and Cadbury anymore. Now, having digested the film’s glib observations on -yawn- the ugly nature of all that is gilded and elegant, I wish the film had really just been about a hotel, its guests and its staff… oh wait #downtonabbey”

I deleted it, I think, because many of my friends enjoyed the movie and there’s always a question of offending people by not sharing their taste. Also, there’s a suspicion lurking at the back of my head that there’s something about the film I’m not getting and that publicly declaring my dislike of it makes me look dumb. Also, even though I don’t personally know Wes Anderson, nor was there a chance in any kind of hell that he’d have read that post, something about it felt mean and uncharitable, and having been subjected to that kind of treatment in the press on occasion, I figured one should not pay it forward.

My reproducing it here is un-ironic.

Anyway, yeah. Something about the film just didn’t click for me. I was carried along by the first third of it, but by the time it became an elaborate jail-break and half-assed who-dunnit with needlessly long and unbearably cutesy chase sequences, I really just wanted it to end. The thing that troubles me about it is that so many people have called it sublime, remarking on its dark, painful undertones. When I watched it, the film felt hollow. It felt like everything it was saying about human cruelty, the decline of civilisation, the onset of the terrible second world war… was incidental and used as a backdrop, as an excuse to access that twee, Romantic aesthetic.

The film seems to be reflexive about its own methods. Its overall ‘take-home’ is a sad but winking point about how elegance, prettiness and style might be used to mask or distract from the ugliness of things, in other words that there’s something truly dark and painful at the heart of Wes Anderson’s chocolate cake of a film. And there were numerous kinds of motifs to that effect: layered cakes hiding knives, boxes hiding said cakes, bodies stuffed in boxes, grand hotels masking sexual failure; old, dolled up ladies masking base sexual desires; elegant, wealthy families hiding murderous intent… but that seems to be about it: “all that glitters is not gold”. The film never really gets to the promised darkness in the chocolate. There’s no more profound layer to excavate. After peeling away all the narrative and visual layers, I found the film’s centre hollow and senseless. The only sadness seems to be the filmmaker’s own. For a nobler, more humane age that has passed forever. And with a horrific future of fascism looming over the film, that age would pass into something far shittier. But because that milieu was “civilised” insofar as it blotted out the suffering and exploitation of the people who helped prop it up, I find that kind of bullshit nostalgia phony and immoral. It’s practically entry-level Woody Allen in Midnight in Paris, and god was that an awful movie.

At least with Wes Anderson’s other movies– Moonrise Kingdom and Rushmore, in particular– the odd species of adult-children and childlike-adults that he creates, even if they’re just neurasthenic versions of the actors playing them, brings a bizarre but believable weirdness to the absurd world he constructs around them. It’s a vision of childhood shot-through with adulthood, and adulthood shot through with childhood pangs, a sense that the kids will grow up to be the screwed up adults who preside over their lives. Even if the characters are flat and wooden, the messy coming of age stories that Wes Anderson creates around them have a genuine power. With TGBH, it’s a glib telling of a story that halfway through I don’t really care to listen to anymore. And the characters, like Pinocchio, feel like they want to be real than the filmmaker is willing to make them. It seems the sum of a thirst for life is one’s obsessive taste for poetry, expensive perfume and sugary German confections.

Perhaps the only honest moment in the entire film is that short cut of Agatha cycling through the grey woods, a flashback of the older Zero character. The entire shot, all of 10 seconds long, is stripped of Anderson’s over-saturated colours and hipster cafe decor. The movement is fluid and the picture is broken out of his brutally centred framing. For a few beautiful moments, we see a hint of what the film is trying to do with its layers of memory, nostalgia and loss. It’s the only moment, I think, that’s truly Romantic, growing out of the depths we’re told the characters have but otherwise don’t see. It mingles dark and light, hope and despair, loss and remembrance. It’s fluid and excessive, brief and fleeting. Everything else is just popcorn.

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