This is the Wes Anderson movie I’ve liked best since The Royal Tenenbaums, which essentially means it’s not as good as that, or Rushmore. Or The Fantastic Mr. Fox, so I guess it’s the second best liked since Tenenbaums. (I’ll apologize right now for not liking Moonrise Kingdom – apparently I’m the only one). But I feel that his movies haven’t really packed an emotional punch since Tenenbaums.
I think it’s partly because Anderson has grown more dominant as a co-writer and writer (although he was “inspired” by someone’s writings and shares a story credit, this is Anderson’s first solo credit as a writer) over the years. And I think he needed someone like Owen Wilson to ground him as a writer. Contrast Rushmore (filmed at the private school in Houston that Anderson and Wilson actually attended and the public school down the street) with Moonrise Kingdom or Grand Budapest (in which the special effects are done with miniatures and animation). I think it’s clear that Anderson is more of a Max Fischer player than Wilson is. So this is his vision, and I guess I don’t like it.
My largest issue is this: there was an emotional core to Tenenbaums and Rushmore that just isn’t there in Grand Budapest. It’s eerie to watch the suicide attempt scene in Tenenbaums and remember it was written by Owen Wilson. And as a Latin student and drama club member with an unrequited crush on my freshman year TA in college, Max Fischer was someone with whom I COMPLETELY identified.
In Rushmore, Max and Mr. Blume’s friendship is based on them feeling like the odd men out. And in Tenenbaums, there may be more eccentrics, but they’re still outnumbered by the rest of the world. But the rest of world affects these characters. Where would Max be without Margaret Yang, or the Tenenbaums be without Henry Sherman’s proposal to Etheline? In Grand Budapest, however, the entire world and everyone in it is eccentric. It’s a world full of Max Fischers, all trying to out-Max Fischer one another.
I imagine if Anderson were to write Rushmore now, it would be about Max Fischer’s amazing plan to put on “Heaven and Hell”; the teachers would be played by Edward Norton, Tilda Swinton, Adrien Brody, and Waris Ahluwalia; he and Dirk would have to outrun the owners of the dynamite factory on their soapbox derby racers (told via stop-motion animation, of course); Margaret Yang would probably have an eye-patch or something; and Miss Cross and Mr. Blume wouldn’t even be in it (Bill Murray would cameo as the math teacher at the beginning).
I think that sums it up. Grand Budapest was too much like a Max Fischer production. And like a Max Fischer production, it’s charming in small doses. But stretched to feature length, it can get a little too clever for it’s own good. As anyone who’s watched all of the Max Fischer Players’ shorts for the MTV Movie Awards on the Criterion Collection DVD of Rushmore can attest.