Published on March 21st, 2014 | by Dan Nicholls0
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The latest work from quirky filmmaker Wes Anderson, a tale of comedic intrigue at a fictional hotel, may further divide his followers from his detractors.
There are few names that inspire fervent discussions amongst cinephiles quite like Wes Anderson. Over the course of 18 years and eight feature films, the indie auteur of Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums captured the imagination of many film dreamers with his idiosyncratic style. The very same stylized vision that makes him a hero to so many also inspires a fair deal of vocal discord from the haters — some will say he’s the definition of style over substance, a precocious dreamer with a penchant for the peculiar and a pace that gives pause to mainstream audiences (even his most commercially successful films have failed to reach grosses north of $52 million domestically). Anderson’s detractors won’t much enjoy The Grand Budapest Hotel; they’ll likely label it as ‘too Wes Anderson-y.’ But the filmmaker’s loyal admirers will find plenty to like in his latest comedy, and might even be surprised to discover a more somber underlying tone than has been present in his past couple of features.
Taking place in the 1930s in the fictional country of Zubrowka, the film is told in flashback from the perspective of a man who was once a young lobby boy at the prestigious and ornate Grand Budapest Hotel. The lobby boy, named Zero Moustafa (played as a young man by Tony Revolori and as an adult by F. Murray Abraham) is swiftly taken under the wing of the hotel’s concierge, the popular M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes). When a frequent visitor to the hotel (Tilda Swinton, under layers of old age makeup) is murdered, Gustave is bequeathed with a priceless painting, much to the chagrin of the greedy Dmitri (Adrien Brody) and his henchman Jopling (Willem Dafoe). Gustave is abruptly framed for the murder and numerous colourful adventures ensue –– including a prison break, a shootout, and a race down a ski hill.
As those familiar with Anderson’s body of work would expect, The Grand Budapest Hotel never fails to disappoint on a purely visual level. Anderson’s visual aesthetic will perhaps always be his calling card, but I found myself wanting just a bit more from the plot. It’s disappointing that, if you’ve seen the film’s trailers, you’ve practically seen the entire movie. The film also features a triple-level framing device, which is a couple of levels too many in my opinion, but it’s a motif that drives home the film’s (and perhaps Anderson’s) core theme of nostalgia.
As with most of Anderson’s films, The Grand Budapest Hotel boasts a stellar roster of famous names in its credits. It’s just a shame that such a talented and varied cast doesn’t function as much more than a collection of glorified cameos (Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, and Jason Schwartzman are among those receiving far too little screen time). But, those actors lucky enough to spend more than a passing couple of moments on screen perform their clever dialogue and character quirks with relish. Ralph Fiennes in particular delivers his role with zest; Fiennes has never really had the chance to shine in a fully comedic role, but he seizes the opportunity to delve into the character of Gustave and all the mannerisms and quips that the part entails. Fiennes is simply a delight to watch, and his performance is as savory as one of the many cupcakes on display throughout the film. Newcomer Tony Revolori doesn’t quite breakout in his first major role in the same way Jason Schwartzman did with Rushmore, but the actor provides the young Zero with just the right balance of humor, assertiveness, curiosity, and beaming adoration for his mentor.
There are things I didn’t like in The Grand Budapest Hotel, and I sincerely wish I laughed as much as I did during Fantastic Mr. Fox. I also wasn’t hit with a sentimental gut-punch like I was with The Darjeeling Limited and especially The Royal Tenenbaums. But maybe that’s just fine, and maybe I’m looking for too much in The Grand Budapest Hotel instead of appreciating it for what it is: a fantastically enjoyable trip to a world that only Anderson could have brought to life on the big screen. I wasn’t too keen on Moonrise Kingdom after I saw it the first time, but my admiration grew exponentially with each successive viewing. I’ll undoubtedly see The Grand Budapest Hotel again but without the pre-release hype and excitement that likely raised my hope to an unattainable level. Days after seeing the film, I can’t shake M. Gustave’s affectations or Dmitri’s exasperated contempt for anyone other than himself. Perhaps that’s a sign of the film’s nostalgic storytelling staking claim on a small part of my brain, and perhaps in time it will move its way into my heart. But for now, I’ll recommend it highly to my fellow Anderson devotees, and urge the uninitiated to take this trip to the Republic of Zubrowka with an open mind.