First Thoughts about The Grand Budapest Hotel

I want to keep my place in the old world
Keep my place in the arcane
‘Cause I still love my parents and I still love the old world

(The Modern Lovers, “Old World”)

When we were walking in the theater, a River East employee handed us a survey, since it was “opening weekend.”  The survey asked us to answer some questions before and after the movie.  What I’m most embarrassed about is that one of the questions asked me to identify the three television channels I watched the most often – and my first answer (not the marginal third one, which turned out to be ESPN, second being MSNBC) but my FIRST answer: HGTV.  That’s right.  The channel on which those dulcet lines “okay, I like that’s there’s granite,” or “this is pretty small for a master,” or – perhaps worst, “I just wish this was more, like, open, you know?” can be heard pretty much 24/7.

I wish I could sit every one of those obnoxious suburban Austin McMansion “open concept”-craving inane professionals in front of a old tube television with a big pair of 70’s era headphones with the coiled extension-cord wiring and force them to watch all of Wes Anderson’s eight feature films back to back.  They would be horrified.  In fact, Wes Anderson is pretty much the anti-HGTV.  His scenery could all be fairly called, among other things, “dated,” “small,” “sort of weird,” or the ultimate in HGTV veiled-insult speak, “different, I guess.”

Quickly running over all of the scenes I could remember from all of these movies, I could only come up with one memorable scene set in anything even arguably like an “open concept” – Bob Maplethorpe’s gauche suburban sprawling ranch, at which there are two scenes: first, the Act I moment when they’re planning the robbery of the bookstore, and Dignan storms out (since Bob can’t stop playing with the gun), and Dignan fumes from off stage “how does an asshole like Bob get such a great kitchen?”, and later, the Act III party at his house, the one where Dignan unwittingly helps Mr. Eddie perpetrate the con-job that will end in Bob’s house (including piano) being robbed.

Pretty much the rest of the Wes Anderson oeuvre is a sustained flight from open floor plans.  It seems at least arguable that Anderson’s preoccupation with small spaces is a direct, perhaps almost pathological reaction against his suburban Texas upbringing.  And perhaps in no other of these films is the rebellion against open floor plans more sustained and thorough than in The Grant Budapest Hotel (possibly excepting The Fantastic Mr. Fox, which is, of course, literally set within foxholes and rodent tunnels).

I guess there is the hotel lobby, but even its spaces are all very clearly defined and spoken for.  This is a world where no one brags (again, HGTV-style) of “spending just so much time in the kitchen,” unless they are a professionally trained pastry chef.  A world where the hotel’s owner stays in a barely-wide-enough-to-open-the-door European airport-hotel-sized single bedroom.  Hotels themselves are a long-standing preoccupation of Anderson’s: there’s the nameless roadside motel in Bottle Rocket, Rushmore‘s downtown luxury refuge-from-divorce Bloom checks into “indefinitely,” the “Lindbergh Palace” of The Royal Tenenbaums, and the decrepit abandoned island resort of The Life Aquatic, each of which are very deliberately constructed and nuanced.  But here, as the title indicates, is a full-length study that somehow feels both enchantingly original and 100% inevitable in retrospect.

The New Yorker reviewer couldn’t have gotten it more wrong when s/he suggested that this is a film designed to be smugly enjoyed by unemotional sophisticates.  It’s one of my least favorite kind of negative reviews – the sort that lets you know that, if you like it, you’re stupid too.  The ad-hominem hatchet job [but I’m still right about Lincoln, just btw].  It’s almost impossible to believe they were watching the same movie as me.  This was so far from smug – quite honestly if there were any obvious influences, they were much lower-brow than anything I anticipated (at least the ones I was aware of).  This movie brought me back to the 60’s-era James Bond, and then, among other childhood cartoons, Goofy Does Sports and also the Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote shorts.  Pretension is an easy accusation to make against a target like this, but it’s so far from my experience of the just utter playfulness I took from this film that it’s really confusing what such a person could have meant.

This movie was, among other things, exhilarating, fast-paced, miniaturized, nostalgic (obviously), warm, kind, human, Dostoevsky-ian (especially its outermost framing narrative) and hilarious.  I also feel like I’ll need to watch it again to be able to write more than just gushing “that was so awesome” sorts of things right now, so I’ll just leave it at with this:

When I got home from first seeing The Royal Tenenbaums, probably 12 years ago, I found the first person I could who was on AIM and told them I had just seen the best movie ever.  I wouldn’t quite say that here, but one thing I will say for Wes Anderson, watching his movies (at least when they’re good) feels a lot more like going to the long-awaited concert of the band you’ve just listened to on your headphones – you leave wondering why, as a college friend put it after we finished Rushmore (at central Connectictut’s Berlin Cinemas 15 or whatever) “I wish my life was like that.”  The Grand Budapest Hotel is a movie about someone who “wishes his life was like that,” and whose nostalgic desires are clearly being ridiculed, and yet still I felt the same way – I wish my life was like that.

Oh one last thing – when we got home, I realized that the elevator in our apartment building is so totally unromantic it was sad.

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One Response to First Thoughts about The Grand Budapest Hotel

  1. Sam Brown says:

    Just saw it tonight. You really can’t go wrong setting a film in a fictional/pseudo fascist vaguely Central European nation, which, if you think about it, makes this very much the brother of Fantastic Mr. Fox… more of a distant cousin to the Tenenbuam/Aquatic/Darjeeling line.

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