MY WEEK (July 17, 2014): Too much style and not enough substance in Wes Anderson’s adventure?

Usually, when I pick a film to review for my column, I try to choose something that I think I’ll enjoy.

Friday, 18th July 2014, 4:28 pm
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Grand Budapest Hotel

However, this week I decided to take a chance on a movie that didn’t appeal to me, The Grand Budapest Hotel.

It’s directed by Wes Anderson and tells the story of a concierge named M. Gustave and his run-in with the law in the fictional Republic of Zubrowka.

The film’s visual style makes an immediate impact. All the colours are saturated, the set design is almost always luxurious and most of the shots are framed symmetrically. Characters are usually dead centre and quite small in the shot as the camera soaks up the surrounding detail.

It’s good if you enjoy films that look like paintings (or fondant fancies) but I found it exhausting to view after a while.

I also found it hard to get emotionally invested in the characters because of the coolly distant feel that the style creates. The film’s big action sequence, which involves a high-speed ski chase, completely fails to thrill. It looks utterly fake, but maybe that’s the point in a film that seems to be more about surfaces than substance.

From the variety of gushing reviews online it seems that some people love this movie for precisely the reasons I found it off-putting, so I guess it’s just a matter of taste.

Despite my complaints, I did enjoy aspects of The Grand Budapest Hotel. It’s an ensemble piece with some very fine actors, including Jeff Goldblum, Tom Wilkinson and Edward Norton.

However, it’s Ralph Fiennes who makes this film worth watching. He’s a delight as the heavily perfumed Gustave. His quick talking, posh boy act is highly enjoyable, as his character remains relentlessly polite and dignified even when there’s no real need for it. At the funeral of his friend Madame D, for example, Gustave looks into the open coffin and tells her that she looks well. “I don’t know what sort of cream they’ve put on you down at the morgue,” he says reassuringly. “But I want some.”

Willem Dafoe is good too, convincingly menacing as a heartless hitman. It’s also impossible not to like newcomer Tony Revolori as the loyal lobby boy Zero Moustafa.

Overall then, The Grand Budapest Hotel is an odd film – beautifully shot but frustratingly restrained, full of witty dialogue but emotionally shallow.

For better or worse, it’s a one-of-a-kind comedy.