Wednesday, March 25, 2015

"The Grand Budapest Hotel": a very brief review

I'm going to keep this short because so much has already been said about "The Grand Budapest Hotel." Suffice it to say that I'm not a fan of Wes Anderson's over-quirky and affectless approach to movie comedy,* but various sources, including my friend Steve Honeywell, had described "Hotel" as the least Anderson-y of Anderson's films, which might make for tolerable viewing. I elected to take that bet. Long story short: I enjoyed "Hotel" and thought Ralph Fiennes gave a marvelous performance. The language of the script was charmingly anachronistic (phrases like "get it" and "fucking faggot" didn't strike me as particularly 1930s in tone); the use of F. Murray Abraham as the old narrator of the framing story recalled Salieri in "Amadeus"; Willem Dafoe's hilarious turn as a demented killer evoked his Bobby Peru from "Wild at Heart." And I think I've figured out what makes "Hotel" so much less Anderson-y than Anderson's other films: the man was channeling the Coen brothers. No other review has mentioned this, but I thought "Hotel" was thoroughly infused with a Coenesque sensibility redolent of the noir-zaniness of "Raising Arizona"—but with a painting instead of a baby as the object of desire. Anderson did something this time around that he's failed to do in his other comedies: he made his characters human. That was a relief.



*Anderson isn't alone in this: a lot of indie films these days seem to think there's something funny about having characters who deliver their lines in the plodding, emotionally detached, expressionless manner of not-yet-rotten zombies. It's a sad state of affairs when soporific performances take the place of actual verve and real wit. I blame German and East European cinema for exporting this aesthetic, and I blame stupid young American directors—as well as veteran American directors, like Anderson, who should know better—for seeing value in it.


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