In my experience, Wes Anderson’s films are equivalent to be being aurally bombarded with someone’s self-indulgent phone conversation on a silent commuter train at 8am. Irritation builds as the person raucously laughs and chatters, while I sit suffering and craving caffeine. A strong comparison admittedly, but it’s a provocation that’s been building over the years after patiently watching his celebrated films and striving to see in them anything else but a director who seems too self-impressed to tell a good story.
While people continue to rave about him, I find myself responding with indifference, bemusement and, just occasionally, mild enjoyment. Yet, while such recent Anderson outings as The Darjeeling Limited held a certain charm and emotional depth, his latest, The Grand Budapest Hotel, feels like another hollow shell. The pastel colours and beautifully intricate animated interludes create a bold aesthetic that die-hard Anderson fans will love, but the visual splendour only masks the film’s malnourished core.
Set in the 1930s, pre-war era, the film charts the ridiculous adventures of camp lothario Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes), a famous concierge at the luxurious Grand Budapest, and his lobby boy and confidant, Zero Mustafa (Tony Revolori). Gustave is wrongly accused of murder and becomes embroiled in an inheritance battle; the pair go on the run with an invaluable stolen Renaissance painting. The plot from then on becomes incredibly convoluted, partly to accommodate the exhausting procession of actors that keep popping up in fake moustaches.
Anderson certainly draws in some of the best and brightest, and is known for his ensemble casts, but in this instance he’s really pushing it. It’s like wandering around a Wes Anderson version of Madame Tussauds. Stars pepper the film, appearing in insignificant roles that are too brief to be interesting or do their talent much justice. In the whole two scenes we are graced with Tilda Swinton’s presence, she’s wonderful, but then she’s swiftly gone, swallowed up to make room for the next character.
Owing to Anderson’s trademark cartoonish surrealism, the characters don’t seem to have any basis in reality, which makes them difficult to care about. While the film is, at heart, a comic-caper, the humour is repetitive, peculiar and frequently falls flat. The contrast between Gustave’s eloquent accent and his persistent swearing is a source of most of the comedy. Ho hum.