Editor’s Note: In preparation for this review, I saw The Grand Budapest Hotel twice. I did this neither out of adoration nor frustration, but out of functional necessity. See, I fell asleep around midway through the first time I saw The Grand Budapest Hotel, because I drank too much Sauvignon Blanc with dinner. Not wanting to write a partial analysis, I forewent my next dinnertime Sauv Blanc and saw the movie again, maintaining full consciousness throughout. Naturally, I afterwards found my second viewing resulted in a markedly different reaction than my first. I also realized that, if I was to provide my readership with a proper account of my experience, of what I saw and felt in the theater during The Grand Budapest Hotel, I’d have to write two reviews: one sober, and one mad drunk off of Sauvignon Blanc. So I did. They are below. Finis.
The Strawberry Criterion: The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Blanc’d Out Take
For real tho how many more Wes Anderson movies can Wes Anderson make? The Grand Budapost Hotel is prolly numerically his 9th or 10th Wes Anderson movie and the questation begs to be asked. “Has Wes Anderson become a parity of Wes Anderson?” For instance and for example!: how long can you sustain a career on droll dialogue and meticulus set design and having one stooped Indian person in your movie? Do we really need another slo-mo sequence set to Mothersbaugh or dad rock? Do we really need another offbeat tragicomedy set ina magically recognizable magicland? How many bibelots will it take to sate your bibelot hunger, Wes Anderson? HOW. MANY.
I think I read a comment on Jezebel or maybe a Grantland article that said that The Grand Bodapest Hotel is the most Wes Anderson-y movie Wes Anderson has ever made. Which is something I AGREE WITH and DON”T THINK is a GOOD THING. Like of course you’re bound to lose some of that wonder sense from the 1st time you rented Rushmore from the Hollywood Video by the Arby’s. But if art history is any indicator our greatest artists (our Van Goghs and Shia LeBoufs and Kanye Wests) have a fluid aesthetic! and the joy of each subsequent artistic ARTifact lies in how it deviates from and is beholder to the artist’s previous works. With The Grand Budapast Hotel, I’d say Wes Anderson, “not so much.”
We’ve reached a point in the Anderson ouerve where every aspect of his movies is a referent to a past aspect of his movies. You’ve got pretty much the same characters hitting pretty much the same emotional beats in pretty much the same little dollhouses. This has become both an in-movie and IRL issue, since you have the same actors saying lines written by the same people in dollhouses built by the same dollhouse builders. And tho you never get the sense Anderson is a one-trick pony, you do get the sense that Anderson is a pony with a very finite bag of tricks. In the words of Austin Powers, “That ain’t my bag, baby!” I like wine.
Le Grande Dubapost Hotel does everything a Wes Anderson movie is supposed to do. It builds a world utterly like and un-like our own. It peoples this world with eccentric, endearingly damaged characters. It’s so upfront about its own artificiality and irony that it transcends artifice and irony, leaving you with a real, earnest depiction of life as it manifests not only to Wes Anderson, but to human beings everywhere. EXCEPT THIS IS ALL STUFF YOU CAN SAY ABOUT EVERY WES ANDERSON MOVIE. It’s not that I didn’t ENJOY IT; I just didn’t enjoy IT as MUCH because I’ve ENJOYED similar JOYS before and I”M READY FOR A NEW JOY FROM THIS GUY.
Wes Anderson’s bibelot hunger may never be sated. I, however, am full.
Drunk Strawberry Verdict: 3 Strawberries out of 5
The Strawberry Criterion: The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Sober Take
The Grand Budapest Hotel is Wes Anderson’s eighth film, long past the point where his filmography can be uttered in a single breath. Even when referred to by their diminutives, enumerating his works exhausts. There’s Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, and Tenenbaums; Life Aquatic, Darjeeling, and Mr. Fox; most recently previously, Moonrise Kingdom, and presently, The Grand Budapest Hotel. Similarly to his generation’s lone, surname-sharing peer, Paul Thomas, Wes Anderson has released a film once every 2.5 approximate years since the late 90’s. And yet, were one party to ask another in trivial conversation, “Who’s made more movies: Wes Anderson or Paul Thomas Anderson?” one would expect the asked party to sip his or her Sauvignon Blanc knowingly and say, “Wes Anderson, by a motherfucking long shot!” Why is this?
The ostensible abundance of Wes Anderson films has nothing to do with numbers and everything to do with creative variation. To put it plainly, Wes Anderson’s eight films aren’t that different from one another. Not visually. Not technically. Not thematically. If someone doesn’t like one of his films, it is highly unlikely that he or she will like any of his others. This is neither a case of mistaking the forest for the trees or mistaking the trees for the forest; it is the case of a forest comprised of single, towering redwood. The part is the whole and the whole is the part. The Grand Budapest Hotel deviates in no way from this trend. If anything, it embraces Anderson’s style more so than any of his previous films.
I would argue this isn’t a good thing; I would argue it’s a great thing.
As audiences we place an enormous premium on an artist’s ability to change stylistically while remaining constant qualitatively. Rarely do we reward just making the same basic thing, over and over. Which makes sense: the risk of making something is made less risky, the challenge less challenging. Yet, I’d posit, there is risk in making the same basic thing, over and over again; an equal risk, if not a greater one. Look at the literature of Thomas Bernhard, or the paintings of Jackson Pollack, any artist whose works vary little between iterations. Their devotion to their aesthetic demonstrates not a lack of ideas, but a belief in a single idea’s ability to unearth an infinitude of ideas. The Grand Budapest Hotel is the apotheosis of a Wes Anderson film, and it isn’t alone in that distinction.
Because who really gives a shit about the means if the ends bestow the same rewards? Yes, The Grand Budapest Hotel worked on me as every previous Wes Anderson movie had, but that’s to say it worked on me joyously, powerfully, as no other director’s films do. It frustrated me, like its predecessors had, and its successes effectively quashed those frustrations from my memory, like its predecessors’ had. My one qualm would be, considering this is his most violent movie, that his view of violence (and trauma for that matter) remains an adolescent’s, forever happening off screen, or at best viewed askance. I truly look forward to the film where Wes Anderson will engage that violence and trauma directly, but I will celebrate him just the same if he never does. When seen in its entirety, I literally had to be blacked out on wine and asleep not to feel something during The Grand Budapest Hotel. The same goes for all his movies, from Bottle Rocket forward.
How many more Wes Anderson movies can Wes Anderson make? If we’re are lucky, as many as he can.
Sober Strawberry Verdict: 4.5 out of 5 Strawberries