I have a love and hate relationship when it comes to Wes Anderson films. Some of his movies come across as absolutely incredible to me (Moonrise Kingdom and Fantastic Mr. Fox) and others are mostly forgettable (Bottle Rocket and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou), that being said, I haven’t actually seen all of his movies but I had to watch The Grand Budapest Hotel since it has been helmed as one of the best movies of the year. And is it the best movie of the year? No, not really. Is it pretty good though? Absolutely. The movie doesn’t stray away from Wes Anderson’s style whatsoever and every single shot of the movie is absolutely incredible to look at. Listen, I don’t think too many people complain about how great looking a Wes Anderson movie is. They are always absolutely gorgeous from the way the camera moves to the way each shot is framed to the color palette, everything is incredible as per usual and I think Budapest is probably his most beautiful film to date. My issues with Budapest more so come from the characters lacking real depth or emotional resonance as well as how overstuffed the movie is.
The movie already begins in jumbled mess considering it has four separate timelines. One in present day with a teenage girl looking at a monument of a writer simply known as “The Author” (Tom Wilkinson) and she begins to read his memoir near the monument. It then jump backwards to 1985 and we see The Author who begins narrating a story about a time when he went to the Grand Budapest Hotel in 1968. The hotel is in a poor state at this point and doesn’t have very many guests but The Author encounters Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham) and Zero begins to tell the tale of how he took ownership of the hotel, which then brings us to the year 1932 and is the main timeline of the film. The first timeline with the teenage girl is utterly pointless and seems to serve no purpose other than making the reference to Stefan Zweig a bit more evident. The timeline of the author in 1985 also serves no purpose. The only two timelines that are important are at least the ones prominently featured: 1968 and 1932. I would have preferred better connective pieces to all these timelines to string them all together otherwise it just comes across as kind of pointless.
We are still mostly taken through the story in 1932 (with 4:3 framing that I actually quite appreciated visually, Anderson uses it to his advantage in every shot), which really takes the viewer through the hotel in the glory days with Zero as a young lobby boy and Monsieur Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes) as the concierge of the hotel. Fiennes is really the carrier of this film, he keeps it entertaining and has the most well established sense of wit out of anyone in the cast and is sadly, one of the only really well developed characters. We are loaded with great actor after great actor (Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Edward Norton, Harvey Keitel, Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Tilda Swinton, Owen Wilson, etc.) but they seem to serve no purpose other than to be like “hey look at these actors we got for this movie. They won’t serve much of a purpose in the movie but who doesn’t like Bill Murray?” Some much wasted talent all at once to simply serve in places where many other lesser actors could have filled the role. Very few characters as a whole are developed but at the very least, the story is outrageous enough and beautiful to look at to keep it from losing too much artistic and entertainment value. The movie has jail time in it, murder, people losing fingers, sledding, a bunch of priests in the mountains, etc, plenty of weird, quirky, Wes Anderson shit (I mean that in a good way).
Budapest is not a bad film by any means; simply the reception of the film has been a bit overstated in my eyes. I’ll say it again, the movie is so incredibly beautiful visually but the characters lack much development beyond being there to rattle off Wes Anderson quirks (which are admittedly fun to hear and watch and at least somewhat funny) and that is a real shame and disappointment to a movie that I think if more time was spent on writing good characters, the movie as a whole could have been better. Certainly worth watching for the visuals alone…but don’t expect characters or a story that is really going to stick with you (despite how weird and fun and quirky the story might be).