Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Grandly Exuberant (Film Review of Grand Budapest Hotel) by Alison Ross

For me, going to see a Wes Anderson film is like indluging in a game called Hit or Miss. You know you are going to be entertained during this game (Wes is always entertaining, at least), but will you feel fulfilled at the end - i.e., will you come out a winner at the end, or a loser? Because even though filmmakers are the ones responsible for making winning or losing movie-games, we the viewers are the ones who ultimately need to feel like the movie is worth the increasingly larger chunk of green we slap down for these cinematic events.

Royal Tenenbaums, I would say, is one of Anderson's huge hits, as were Rushmore and Bottle Rocket. All the rest - Life Aquatic, Fabulous Mr. Fox, Moonrise Kingdom, and Darjeeling Limited - were varying shades of lame, though of course each boasted intriguing facets.

Royal Tenenbaums, in fact, is a utopic meshing of pathos and comedy. The farcical surface harbors a melancholic depth that render this movie a modern classic, using family dynamics and dyfunction as the pivot on which it wildly swings.

I am happy to report that Grand Budapest Hotel is a raucous ride, both literally and figuratively, since the movie relies on an abunance of motion to propel the plot. Indeed, one standout scene is a Marx Brothers-caliber caper that serves as slapstick escapism as well as the anchor which centers the movie.

The movie virtually bleeds cameo appearances, yet most cameos are eye-blinkingly brief. However, mercifully, appearances by Willem Dafoe as brute bulldog archetype, Adrian Brody as the epitome of seething self-indulgence, as well as Jeff Goldblum and Edward Norton, are featured prominently. We wish we could see more Tilda Swinton, Harvey Keitel, Owen Wilson, and Anderson mainstay Jason Schwartzbaum, but I suppose that's asking too much.

Of course, it's protagonist Ralph Fiennes' manic antics that give the movie the freewheeling sense of fun. This is not to say that he does not counterpoise the hilarity with moments of true tenderness. Too, Fiennes always manages to coat his performances with a layer of moroseness even when the role does not explicitly call for it. I am not sure what Anderson's intentions were with Fiennes' character in this film, but Fiennes does manage to convey multiple emotional states within his quirky characterization.

But it is true that it's a bit murky as to what Anderson's intentions truly are with this film, because it has farcical elements and yet an infusion of World War I/Nazi themes as well, which destabilizes the farce  - for ill or good measure, depending on your personal proclivities. Normally I would be irritated by such incongruities and uncertainties - I don't necessarily mind incongruity when it's clear what the purpose of the incongruity is, and in this movie, it's not, at least for me - but in the case of Grand Budapest Hotel, I am not disconcerted. The zaniness alone carries me along joyfully, and the intrusion of more somber aspects merely make the movie rife with unorthodx juxtaposition rather than bothersomely bipolar.

If anything, the movie is a grand trip through a luxurious past as well as a nostalgic nod to bygone comedic styles.

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