Overview: The misadventures of a concierge and his lobby boy are recounted. Fox Searchlight Pictures; 2014; Rated R; 100 Minutes.
Familiar Style: Director Wes Anderson doesn’t offer up any surprises in The Grand Budapest Hotel. Anyone familiar with Anderson’s previous work will notice the trademarks right way: God’s eye POV, whip-pans, eccentric dialogue, miniatures, narration, you get the point, and the list goes on. Anderson is the king of divisive auteurs. I stand on the positive side of that divide. I admire the detail that Anderson applies to his craft, and that level of detail deserves respect. There is the always impeccable production design, a heightened visual aesthetic, Robert Yeoman’s measured cinematography, a peculiar score (this time from Alexandre Desplat, an Anderson regular), and the predictable whimsical shenanigans. Viewers are either onboard from the words “Wes Anderson” or they are not.
Aspect Ratios: Anderson does present a new technique with this film, in the form of three aspect ratios. The film takes place in several time periods, with a story being told within a story within another story. Anderson employs a different aspect ratio for each time period: 1.85:1 for current day and 1985, 2.35:1 for the 1960s, and 1.37:1 for the 1930s. In its simplest form, the ratios serve as a cue to viewers that the story has changed and they are in a different time period, but there is more to it than that. The majority of the film takes place in the 1930s section with the 1.37:1 ratio. This ratio presents a squarer and taller frame than the wider, flat frame offered by 1.85:1 and 2.35:1. The taller picture helps in the framing of the hotel and its vertical space, as well as the measured, perpendicular composition of many shots.
Viewer Awareness: Anderson’s shot composition is something of which seasoned viewers are always aware. Compared to all other working directors, his shot composition is the most noticeable and distinguishable.
Even casual viewers of his films can observe that his shots are a stylized form of artistic signature. This is more noticeable than ever with The Grand Budapest Hotel, partly because of the change in aspect ratios, which are jarring enough to grab the attention of the most casual viewer. But also because the Anderson shtick may be wearing thin.
As the credits rolled and I walked out of the theater, I couldn’t help but think that while I enjoyed the film, I was becoming numb to Anderson. Nothing from him ever surprises me, but it also never disappoints. I commit to his movies knowing exactly what to expect, and I finish them getting exactly what I expected; nothing more, nothing less. I wonder if at some point he will throw a change-up and catch me off guard with something outside his norm, but I’m not confident that will ever happen. I don’t want to go to the theater when I’m 60, buy a senior ticket to Anderson’s latest film, see a cameo from 100 year-old Bill Murray, and experience the same film that I’ve been able to watch for the last 40 years.
Final Thoughts: The Grand Budapest Hotel is charming and thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish. It’s another impressive entry into the Anderson canon, but it’s also a style of film that is starting to lose its appeal.