Wes Anderson is at it again in The Grand Budapest Hotel with his oddly characterized storytelling that’s reminiscent of a classically off beat stage play. If you’re reading this review, chances are you know exactly what I’m talking about. Anderson has an irrefutably signature style that includes very symmetrical camera work, a dry as sand; quirky as Deschanel line delivery from all the actors, and a witty self awareness that makes way for a sort dramaless drama. If you’re not a fan of the odd direction, this movie is going to do absolutely nothing to make you a believer. But if you’re one of the legion of Anderson fans, you’ve got to wonder, how does The Grand Budapest Hotel stack up against the director’s earlier works like Moonrise Kingdom and The Royal Tenenbaums?
The movie opens with a prologue that takes us through the perspectives of at least three different characters that may momentarily throw you for a loop. For most of the movie we follow the owner of the Grand Budapest Hotel, M. Gustave(Ralph Fiennes) and his newly inducted lobby boy cohort Zero(Tony Revolori) as they seek to prove their innocence in the murder of a wealthy widow named Madame D(Tilda Swinton) who left her most valuable asset(a painting named “Boy with Apple”) to Gustave against her family’s wishes. The two work with the lawyer of the estate Deputy Kovacs(Jeff Goldblum) to try and prove their innocence and fight to survive the against the ruthless assassin Jopling(Willem Dafoe) who is taking out anyone who is keeping the family’s heir(Adrien Brody) from his inheritance. As Gustave and Zero take this outrageously extravagant journey to safety, they form a bond that changes both of them for the rest of their lives.
The Grand Budapest Hotel is easily Wes Anderson’s most plot driven and inarguably convoluted film to date. The opening moments take us inside a book to an author who is reflecting on his younger self who is interviewing an aged Zero about what becomes the main drive of the plot. That’s 4 layers deep into flashback/narrator swap which is a bit unorthodox for a film, but luckily you seem to forget all of that once the film starts rolling. With all of the characters and fast moving plot, this is easily the biggest movie the director has undertaken and the result is a grand(cue the tomatoes) tale that hits all of the high notes and effectively tells a truly memorable story that is sadly missing the more developed character details that Anderson is usually known for.
This movie does a great job at executing the big picture that has a surprising number of moving parts and character subplots that weave in and out of each other to give it layers and enough to merit extra viewings. The consequence of the size is a movie that is engaging and heartfelt in its style and intent, but sadly lacks the depth of character for everyone aside from the leads M. Gustave and Zero. This is their story so it’s a relatively minor criticism, but many of these supporting characters (particularly Goldblum’s Kovacs and Saoirse Ronan‘s Agatha) lack the time and depth for us to really fall in love with them like we usually do with Anderson’s characters. There are either too many characters or not enough time for the movie’s modest 99 minutes. It’s sad that there’s barely a connection made with some of these pivotal characters who take over the screen presence in their limited number of scenes.
Now that I’ve thrashed the only real flaw I could find in the film, let’s dive head first into why I absolutely love this movie. The cast is massive and even the smallest roles are filled with terrific actors like Harvey Keitel, Edward Norton, Jude Law, Jason Schwartzman, and a few other surprises I wouldn’t dare spoil. Despite not having much time to work with, these actors are having a blast by mixing their character roles with Anderson’s signature direction.
The two leads are a lot of fun as they both are both very flawed but lovable heroes. M. Gustave may very well be a despicable person, but his charisma and loyalty to his friends is admirable. Zero is a very mild mannered boy, but always comes through to help solve the problem. The two develop a memorable father/son relationship throughout the film and in the end you can’t help but love both of them flaws and all. Wes Anderson has a way of painting human beings in an innocent if flawed light which is still very refreshing in an era of film that is obsessed with exploring anti-heroes.
Robert Yeoman’s cinematography is as stunning as ever with the very symmetrical camera work films the movie’s brilliant stage design that’s a mix of classical theater sets and on location shots in Germany. Alexandre Desplat’s scoring for the film is also exceptionally catchy and really adds to nostalgic fantasy is created in the mind of the narrator. This is everything we’ve come to love about Wes Anderson taken to a colossal twelve on the ten point Andersonian scale flaws and all. The witty dialog and performance delivery that is typical of his films are all present and more times than not, the jokes land just enough to make you chuckle at the absurdity of it all.
The Grand Budapest Hotel creates a fanciful experience that takes us on a whimsical journey into Wes Anderson’s portrait of 1930s Germany. Its boisterous charm is undeniably fun and mesmerizing thanks to the star studded cast. The movie could have benefited from either more time or a minimized cast which leaves you feeling less connected to the obscenely large ensemble of characters. For better or for worse this is essentially “Wes Anderson Unchained” which means it comes with all of his strengths and weaknesses amplified to the tenth power. Whether or not this is his strongest outing is very much up for debate, but fans won’t want to miss The Grand Budapest Hotel when it hits theaters.