I’ve read many of the arguments against Wes Anderson’s increasingly meticulous productions, but count me on the team that still finds them delightful. Eight features in, and he’s never released a film that I wasn’t fond of. Some more than others(of course), and a few that had to grow on me—but they’re all damn good. The only thing that holds me back from anointing “Moonrise Kingdom”(his previous work from 2012)his very best release, is that I really have to revisit 2001’s “The Royal Tenenbaums”, and see if it holds up over the years(it placed #7, in that year’s Top Ten). In due time. And I found lots to love in “The Grand Budapest Hotel”, even though it’s a Wes Anderson-fan love fest, with all of his tried-and-true devices and techniques in place, and his built-in audience obediently lapping it all up(me included). Call me a sucker…but I just love it all. For “Moonrise Kingdom”, I offered the analogy of Anderson’s film canon as being as “comfortable as an old shoe”. I suppose that could wane some day, but for now it’s still intact. Besides, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” possesses something that “Moonrise Kingdom” decidedly did not. It’s consistently laugh-out-loud funny, and it’s got a pretty nasty streak to it too. Oh, and Ralph Fiennes is just awesome. His timing is impeccable and his delivery is unfailingly divine. First time stop for Fiennes amongst the Wes Anderson ensemble—I sure hope he returns.
The story of “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is told in flashback style, with two key characters being played by different actors at particular stages of their lives. But, to be honest, everyone in the cast is mostly window dressing compared to Ralph Fiennes as M. Gustave H., the concierge of the Grand Budapest…and he’s quite possibly the most dominant character ever to grace a Wes Anderson feature. Never has one of Anderson’s films been so commandeered by one member of the movie’s roster. Lucky for us, Ralph is more than up to the task. After being introduced to Gustave H., and made aware of his unerring control over his workplace, and his reliance on rich, old widows as returning customers(and lovers we quickly learn), we meet young Zero(a strong Tony Revolori)—an orphaned teenager who arrives to work as a lobby boy. Gustave shows Zero the ropes, and then they become unavoidably entwined when one of Gustave’s elderly lovers/sponsors dies suddenly and mysteriously, soon after returning home from the Grand Budapest. When Gustave and Zero arrive at her estate to pay respects, they happen upon the reading of her will. When it is revealed that she has left Gustave a painting of great value, he is accused of foul play by the deceased Madame’s son, Dmitri(a fine and dastardly Adrien Brody). Soon, Gustave is charged with murder, and eventually thrown in jail. But with the help of Zero, and some meticulously designed baked treats, he just might escape long enough to prove his innocence.
“The Grand Budapest Hotel” contains a ski chase, a prison break, a fall from a building, and multiple train journeys—all presented in that instantly recognizable, distinctive Wes Anderson style. And being that the bulk of the action takes place in 1932 during a war-torn period in a fictional European Republic, Anderson maintains the ability to insulate his world and unleash his “fun house” filled with matte paintings, stop-motion animation, three disparate aspect ratios(one for each timeline)and miniature models. It’s not unlike the cloistered island universe of “Moonrise Kingdom”. It’s also an admittedly twee confection…you’re either digging it, or you’re not. I ate it up the entire way, even when it took an unexpectedly violent turn, with the introduction of the henchman Jopling(the brutally perfect Willem Dafoe). The finished film also sports an homage-like resemblance to certain Ernst Lubitsch works of the 1930’s and 40’s, with its Europe during wartime setting, and thieving and espionage devices. The “nation in conflict” focus adorns Anderson’s screenplay with considerable weight, and the denouement with the ripe pungence of melancholy and regret. But for a sizable portion of the 100-minute run time, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is delirious, infectious mirth. And with a cast that includes Jude Law, Tilda Swinton, Bill Murray, Saoirse Ronan, Edward Norton, Owen Wilson and Tom Wilkinson, among others…it’s A-list mirth as well. It may all seem too familiar to some, but it’s also irresistible and inventive throughout. So, I advise you check in, to “The Grand Budapest Hotel”. Grade: A-