With The Grand Budapest Hotel on general release today, a word on why Wes Anderson’s work is more than just visual elegance.
?Twee? wasn?t an adjective that I had ever previously thought about with regards to film. There?s no reason why I shouldn?t have – if a film is indeed ?excessively or affectedly quaint, pretty, or sentimental,? then the critic has a valid argument. It was only when I started watching the films of Wes Anderson that I began to notice this word, cropping up with alarming frequency whenever people were discussing his work, either positively or negatively. Still, I?d never made the connection, and I still don?t.
‘Twee’ is dismissive of what makes Anderson’s films so moving and personal for those who actually enjoy them
It?s not like there isn?t some truth to the comparison. Anderson?s films have always possessed a virtually unrivalled level of design – embodied in his lavish sets, superb framing and stylish costuming – that has led many to the conclusion that he?s a director who emphasises style over substance. Terms like ?dollhouse,? too, are thrown into the vitriolic mixing bowl, as if in some kind of knee-jerk reaction to pigeonhole a director who is seemingly adored by one half of the populace, and loathed by the other.
These terms might accurately describe Anderson?s aesthetic qualities, but they?re dismissive of what makes his films so moving and personal for those who actually enjoy them. While his whole body of work, from Bottle Rocket to The Grand Budapest Hotel, might be unified by how he chooses to tell a story, each one is wholly unique in what that story is about. They study very similar themes, telling tales of broken homes, broken relationships and broken people, but they?re not the same narrative lazily redressed time and time again.
In light of films like The Darjeeling Limited, Bottle Rocket, The Royal Tenenbaums and The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, the term ?twee? comes across as misleadingly positive. While all of his films have a light, colourful tone, Anderson’s work is encompassed by more mature and complex themes. These films have an emotional potency that drives their every shot, feeding off melancholia and anxiety, striving for resolution, which comes, as it does in the real world, in the unlikeliest of forms.
The Grand Budapest Hotel might be Anderson’s most lavish film yet, but its depth extends far beyond the opulence of its aesthetics
His most recent directorial outing, The Grand Budapest Hotel, might be his most lavish, sumptuous and intricately detailed film yet, but its depth extends far beyond the opulence of its aesthetics. It?s a densely packed work, fleetingly exploring its forlorn characters and the once magnificent world that they inhabited with such impact that the few minutes of sorrow are as memorable as the few dozen of glee. Sure, it?s richly decorated and unrelentingly entertaining on face value, but it?s also poignant and tender upon close inspection; even through tears of joy, I was drawn into the film?s gripping moments of clarity.
Critics are often so bogged down in the bloodthirsty hunt for unoriginality, that despite Wes Anderson?s consistent improvements as a director, the cynical dismissals of his work have only grown more numerous. People get to be snide and seething when the trailers are released, deciding almost immediately that the film is going to be ?more of the same?, ?overly quirky? or ?shallow,? before they?ve seen it in full. It?s as if the price that a director pays for having a distinctive style is that he becomes a target for pallid, bitter criticisms, simply because he had the gall to make movies that are so obviously his own.
Berlinale 2014:?The Grand Budapest Hotel early reaction
This isn?t to suggest that Anderson’s films are perfect, but they?ve clearly resonated with a great number of people (myself included), and vapid, perfunctory write-offs from critics do the profession a great disservice. Personally, I?ve never been completely won over by Scorsese?s films, but I admire his body of work, and I understand why so many people cherish him as a director. To me, Anderson?s films tick all the right boxes – they?re charming, visually engaging, thought provoking and emotional all at once. But to a select few, they?re pretentious heaps of shit, and by extension, so am I. That disparity of opinions should speak for itself.
Ultimately, Wes Anderson films seem to be very personal experiences. His style is often referred to as unsympathetic, cold and distanced, his characters compared to figurines, his settings thought of as dollhouses. But there?s a level of depth to everything. His depictions of suicide, depression and loneliness are so arresting, so instantly recognisable and empathetic, that exactly how anyone could have come to those aforementioned criticisms seems to me almost unfathomable. To reduce The Royal Tenenbaums, Moonrise Kingdom, Bottle Rocket, The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, The Darjeeling Limited, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Fantastic Mr. Fox and Rushmore to the simplistic limitations of a term like ?twee? just isn?t good enough.
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Featured image: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Inset images: Focus Features; Fox Searchlight Pictures