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The Grand Budapest Hotel: A big pink confection
The Grand Budapest Hotel: A big pink confection

It’s possible to accuse Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel of verging into self-parody. But I think Anderson is too self-conscious for that. And if you squint just so, you may be able to see it as a response to critics of the Wes Anderson moviemaking method.

In the film’s opening scene, a devoted fangirl approaches the bust of a beloved author. Keys from hotels around the world hang from hooks embedded in the pillar below the bust, and our girl devotedly adds one of her own. The keys make a fitting tribute to the man who wrote the (fictional) novel The Grand Budapest Hotel, and they also let Anderson make his point: this time, at least, THE STORY’S AUTHOR IS THE KEY. The story itself, not so much.

But perhaps you are not convinced by Anderson’s claim. Here, let him convince you. Cut to the author himself (Tom Wilkinson), years earlier, making a video (of himself) on the subject of where good stories come from: they come from the author having the good sense to pay attention and to do a good job of presenting what he observes. This might seem an argument for authorial invisibility in the service of excellent narrative, but don’t be fooled: what matters is his skill in presentation, not the story itself.

Case in point: The Grand Budapest Hotel, which is basically the author’s recounting of what was told to him years earlier, when he was just a young writer (Jude Law), by the aged owner of the joint (F. Murray Abraham). And what did the owner tell the writer? A story from still more years earlier, when the owner was just a boy (Tony Revolori) — and a lobby boy at that. But it isn’t so much the lobby boy’s story as it is the story of Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes), the hotel’s remarkable concierge.

Movie

Grand Budapest Hotel **

thumbnail

Director Wes Anderson's <em>apologia pro</em> style <em>sua</em>. Most of the action takes place in the pre-communist heyday of the titular (and pinkly ornate) Alpine retreat, and involves concierge extraordinaire Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) and his attempt to claim the priceless painting left to him by a grateful old guest/lover. The mannered, madcap proceedings are often delightful, occasionally silly, and here and there, gruesome and/or heartbreaking. But the real star of the show is Anderson himself — the storyteller, relating events in his own ineffable fashion — a point he makes by nesting Gustave's tale in layer after layer of narrative device. We open with a fangirl paying tribute to a dead author, then cut to author in his latter days, then to author in his younger days, picking up the story from an old man full of memories, then to the old man as a young witness. And over it all hovers Anderson, the Master Framer himself.

Find showtimes

So, here we have a story that has made its way across the 20th Century from concierge to lobby boy to writer to fangirl — and in some way, to Anderson himself. And what is the story about? A madcap caper surrounding a dead aristocrat (the concierge had an eye for older ladies), her greedy and scheming family, and a precious painting. It’s often delightful, especially if you’re a fan of Anderson’s compositional eye and mannered dialogue. But it’s also silly and self-indulgent, except when it’s gruesome or heartbreaking. No matter. The presentation is all.

The hotel itself is splendid, both in its opulent heyday and in its communist ruination. Ralph Fiennes plays the fascinating, aristocratic, and profane Gustave with a commitment that is both whole- and light-hearted. And Anderson’s craft as a filmmaker is on full display — the gossamer tale does little to distract the eye. Which is, it seems, the point.

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The Grand Budapest Hotel: A big pink confection
The Grand Budapest Hotel: A big pink confection

It’s possible to accuse Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel of verging into self-parody. But I think Anderson is too self-conscious for that. And if you squint just so, you may be able to see it as a response to critics of the Wes Anderson moviemaking method.

In the film’s opening scene, a devoted fangirl approaches the bust of a beloved author. Keys from hotels around the world hang from hooks embedded in the pillar below the bust, and our girl devotedly adds one of her own. The keys make a fitting tribute to the man who wrote the (fictional) novel The Grand Budapest Hotel, and they also let Anderson make his point: this time, at least, THE STORY’S AUTHOR IS THE KEY. The story itself, not so much.

But perhaps you are not convinced by Anderson’s claim. Here, let him convince you. Cut to the author himself (Tom Wilkinson), years earlier, making a video (of himself) on the subject of where good stories come from: they come from the author having the good sense to pay attention and to do a good job of presenting what he observes. This might seem an argument for authorial invisibility in the service of excellent narrative, but don’t be fooled: what matters is his skill in presentation, not the story itself.

Case in point: The Grand Budapest Hotel, which is basically the author’s recounting of what was told to him years earlier, when he was just a young writer (Jude Law), by the aged owner of the joint (F. Murray Abraham). And what did the owner tell the writer? A story from still more years earlier, when the owner was just a boy (Tony Revolori) — and a lobby boy at that. But it isn’t so much the lobby boy’s story as it is the story of Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes), the hotel’s remarkable concierge.

Movie

Grand Budapest Hotel **

thumbnail

Director Wes Anderson's <em>apologia pro</em> style <em>sua</em>. Most of the action takes place in the pre-communist heyday of the titular (and pinkly ornate) Alpine retreat, and involves concierge extraordinaire Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) and his attempt to claim the priceless painting left to him by a grateful old guest/lover. The mannered, madcap proceedings are often delightful, occasionally silly, and here and there, gruesome and/or heartbreaking. But the real star of the show is Anderson himself — the storyteller, relating events in his own ineffable fashion — a point he makes by nesting Gustave's tale in layer after layer of narrative device. We open with a fangirl paying tribute to a dead author, then cut to author in his latter days, then to author in his younger days, picking up the story from an old man full of memories, then to the old man as a young witness. And over it all hovers Anderson, the Master Framer himself.

Find showtimes

So, here we have a story that has made its way across the 20th Century from concierge to lobby boy to writer to fangirl — and in some way, to Anderson himself. And what is the story about? A madcap caper surrounding a dead aristocrat (the concierge had an eye for older ladies), her greedy and scheming family, and a precious painting. It’s often delightful, especially if you’re a fan of Anderson’s compositional eye and mannered dialogue. But it’s also silly and self-indulgent, except when it’s gruesome or heartbreaking. No matter. The presentation is all.

The hotel itself is splendid, both in its opulent heyday and in its communist ruination. Ralph Fiennes plays the fascinating, aristocratic, and profane Gustave with a commitment that is both whole- and light-hearted. And Anderson’s craft as a filmmaker is on full display — the gossamer tale does little to distract the eye. Which is, it seems, the point.

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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