Movie review: The Grand Budapest Hotel – a case of hollow grandeur

Published: May 25, 2014
The Grand Budapest Hotel is an aesthetic treat but fails to evoke much emotion.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is an aesthetic treat but fails to evoke much emotion.

Filmmaker Wes Anderson generates extreme reactions in his viewers. He is either a master like no other or overrated and boring. Though he has been above average for the last couple of years, every filmmaker is as good as his last film. One cannot hold issues with Anderson’s complete body of work but the meaningless grandeur on display in his latest film, The Grand Budapest Hotel, will leave his fans puzzled and somewhat disappointed. 

The plot of the film unravels or rather meanders on from the get-go. A nameless author (Tom Wilkinson) reflects on his younger days and a particular trip to The Grand Budapest Hotel in a fictional Republic of Zebrowka in 1968. Here his younger self (Jude Law) runs into Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham), the current owner of the Grand Budapest Hotel, who reveals why he didn’t want to close the doors of the rundown hotel.

Moustafa reminisces about the hotel’s glory days in the 1930s when he was just a lobby boy, known as Zero (Tony Revolori), at the hotel. He recalls being schooled by Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), the concierge and the man of the moment, on the ins and outs of the place. A series of events including a rendezvous with a wealthy Madam D, her death and an expensive gift, lead to Gustave  ending up in jail and Zero helping him break free along with some convicts.

The relationship between Zero and Gustave is at the heart of this film but it feels somewhat pretentious as Zero fawns over Gustave, the star of this aimless vehicle on the road to a candy factory. Meanwhile as the plot thickens, actors make flash-in-the-pan appearances. Tilda Swinton plays Madame D but is unrecognisable while Adrian Brody is underused as her amusingly evil son, Bill Murray. Owen Wilson appears and disappears while one tries to keep up with others such as William Dafoe, Edward Norton, Harvey Keitel and Jason Schwartzman as assorted characters.

In The Grand Budapest Hotel, Anderson delivers a stylistic piece of cinema but fails to evoke much feeling. Despite being an aesthetic treat, it feels tediously long at an hour and 40 minutes. Even though it piques your curiosity every now and then, the feeling does not last long and you go back to counting famous faces as they come and go on the screen.

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Maheen Sabeeh is a freelance writer.

Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, May 25th, 2014.

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Reader Comments (7)

  • Leila Rage
    May 25, 2014 - 9:17PM

    Dear reviewer,
    Have you watched many Wes Anderson films? if you have, I am surprised that you find his cinematic style “hollow”. Indeed most of his films are based on the aesthetic of ‘style over substance’ on the surface, thats kind of his trademark. But with each of his films, Grand Budapest Hotel included, there is an opportunity to find greater meaning/depth should one care to. – Bottle Rocket might seem nonsensical to some, yet if one actually thinks about the plot, the use of dialogue (or lack thereof), and the characterisation one finds serious themes such as the exploration of isolation. Certainly, The Grand Budapest Hotel may seem somewhat more than typically frivolous- but this does not mean that it is a hollow film. In fact if you think about it for a while, the film explores the idea of aging, loss, sense of place etc.


  • James River
    May 26, 2014 - 4:05AM

    Disappointed you felt that way, I felt that it was Anderson’s preeminent work and provided both a compelling story and visually appealing masterpiece.


  • joan lue
    May 26, 2014 - 9:04AM

    I find that I would have to disagree with you. This is a fine piece of storytelling that kept me riveted. The quick-witted story kept going with interesting details given very quickly-if you went out for popcorn, you were definitely going to miss out. When the credits started I was wondering if this movie was going to be like the Darjeeling Limited during which I had had a good nap but this was not the case! I would recommend this movie to anyone who might relish a movie without explosions and pyrotechnics.
    Kingston, Jamaiaca


  • Random
    May 26, 2014 - 11:55AM

    92% on RT, your rating is 2 out of 5 stars?

    Exactly what are your credentials?


  • khairsoomro
    May 26, 2014 - 7:13PM

    Probably reviewer has never heard of wonderful German writer Stefan Zweig whose life and works provide core of the movie.


  • Erlinda
    May 26, 2014 - 8:10PM

    I have never disagreed more with a review. The previews showed upcoming movies that were noisy, violent, and action-packed. This movie it the antidote to noisy and violent. It was so clever and “civilized.” It was like a very well-written letter, with all the loose parts neatly bound. There was nothing hollow about this movie. I enjoyed it very much, and I recommend it very much.


  • Mushtaq
    May 27, 2014 - 7:04AM

    Spot on review! And a brave position taken by the reviewer.
    The entire movie meanders with nothing more than famous faces and visual aesthetics. Nothing in the story to write home about.
    A complete disappointment.


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