The 2014 movie year has started out slow. Little of note has really come out this year as the movie industry uses this time for dumping movies that didn’t quite work or releasing in more movie theaters movies they barely got in last year to be considered for Oscar season. So when movie bloggers and film critics are thrown a bone by the industry in the form of Wes Anderson, they are reluctant to let go. Since its release, there have been countless think pieces and reviews that all basically say the same thing: this movie is the best movie to ever movie. It is almost universally liked and the Wes Anderson backlash has been less intense than in the past.I am not a huge Wes Anderson fan, but can appreciate his more thoughtful entries like The Royal Tenenbaums and Fantastic Mr. Fox. Given the buzz around the movie, I was anticipating liking the movie a lot. So when I was given the perfect opportunity, I sat down in a dark theater with my Yuengling and bag of popcorn. But something happened after the trailers aired and as the first images of the movie appeared on-screen. I had an uncontrollable desire to walk out. I wanted to gather up my things and finish my beer in the lobby before escaping into the real world. I had to get away from the insane amount of quirk.
Of course I ended up staying. I kept telling myself that if I can watch epic silent movie serials that I am not really invested in, I can sit here and pay attention to a movie purely so I can write about it. I had to say that several times throughout the viewing. While everyone around me was eating up what was going on, I was yawning. I could not grasp what everyone saw in this movie besides its unique production design. Wes Anderson seemed to have created a universe that is visually pretty, but has little depth.The beautiful pink facade of the hotel, the ornate collection of graphic and classical paintings, and the crispness of every character’s uniform all paper over a less than interesting fake country.This ingrained shallowness extends to the characters. The characters have flashy character quirks that get your attention, but they cannot hold it there for very long. Gustave H is the most egregious example of this. Although he is charming with a smattering of witty lines, there is little character motivation that is committed to throughout the movie. Granted there is plenty of character motivation, it is just dropped every time Wes Anderson gets distracted by something else. Gustave H is a shape shifter and after a while, I got tired of watching him transform in such manic ways. The same could be said for the other characters in the movie. Wes Anderson was so transfixed by the luxurious setting and the witty lines that he forgot grounding his characters in some sort of reality even if it isn’t our reality. The villains of the movie all twirl their mustaches and dress in dramatic black, but are really nonentities that Gustave H can just dismiss. Each obstacle that Anderson puts in his way is easily overcome by wit and posh grandstanding. It is infuriating by the end of the movie that I am still supposed to be rooting for the annoying Gustave.
This last paragraph has put me in the category of Wes Anderson bashing that I do not want to be in. Do not get me wrong. I think this movie is pleasant. But high art worthy of academic analysis and obsession? Absolutely not. My anger stems from the assumption that everything Wes Anderson does is amazing that permeates our pop culture right now. He takes traditional stories and dresses them up with quirkiness until they are almost unrecognizable. When it is good and high quality story, it is appreciated but when the story is flimsy (like the whole middle of this movie was) it buckles underneath the pressure.