Review: The Grand Budapest Hotel – A quirky suite comedy
If you belong to the cult of Wes Anderson film enthusiasts (or if you are someone who gets all giddy at a short cameo appearance by Bill Murray in an Anderson film) then you are most likely going to love his latest effort, The Grand Budapest Hotel. Whether you appreciate the avant-garde style of the quirky director or not, there is no denying that he has carved a unique niche for himself in the world of cinema.
For his latest trick, Anderson uses all the colors in his large crayon box to create an offbeat universe that has a witty story and is endlessly entertaining to observe. Add to the mix a nearly all-star cast and you have one of the best movies so far this year. The only thing missing is the ultra-eclectic mix of music that is the usual mainstay of Anderson’s pictures. That’s not to say that the musical score by Alexandre Desplat is not a good fit, but you won’t find a “Space Oddity” by Seu Jorge on this soundtrack.
The Grand Budapest Hotel is allegedly based on stories by the early twentieth-century author, Stefan Zweig, and begins with a writer (Tom Wilkinson) recounting the misadventures of M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), the debonair concierge of the titular hotel, and his protégé, Lobby Boy, Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori).
The story is set mostly in pre-WWII Europe, in the fictional “Republic of Zubrowka”. It’s worth noting that, although this film has a European setting, several of the actors speak English with an American accent, with no attempt whatsoever to sound German or otherwise. It’s a little strange, but the mix of accents works well enough in the context of this unusual film.
When Gustave, who also provides services as a gigolo, inherits a priceless painting from one of his upscale clients, the 84 year-old, Madame D. (played by an unrecognizable Tilda Swinton), the deceased woman’s son, Dmitri (Adrien Brody), and his hired thug, Jopling (a menacing Willem Dafoe), go after the concierge and frame him for the old harlot’s death.
The film is a marvel of silent film like motion and meticulous slapstick styled pacing as Zero devises a way to break Gustave out of jail, together with some friends the senior concierge has made in prison. Humorous chaos ensues as the pair, together with Zero’s girlfriend, Agatha (Saoirse Ronan), attempt to reclaim the rare painting and escape the wrath of the nefarious Jopling.
Along the way we have a myriad of cameos from Anderson’s troop of regulars, including Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Waris Ahluwalia and Owen Wilson (all of which play concierges in a sort of Masonic society of hotel representatives.) Jeff Goldblum plays an attorney (for both the Grand Budapest Hotel and Madame D.), F. Murray Abraham plays the aged Zero Moustafa, Jude Law plays the younger version of “the author”, Edward Norton is a German police chief, and Harvey Keitel makes a surprise appearance as…well…if I said, it wouldn’t be a surprise.
This film is absolutely beautiful to look at and its production and art design is incredible, utilizing some of the most elaborate sets I’ve seen in a long time – as well as inventive and irreverent use of some garish models and special effects. It’s a look and feel that Anderson fans have come to expect, but it might be nice to see the director try something else at some point.
While I typically enjoy Wes Anderson’s films, I do find them to be pretentious at times, and The Grand Budapest Hotel is no exception. Maybe it was just the audience I saw the film with, but I got the feeling people were laughing because they felt they were supposed to, not necessarily because the material was meant to be funny.
I’ll admit to having an amused smile on my face for most of this movie and I did enjoy the detailed look and feel of the film, if not all of its humor; but ‘quirkiness just for quirkiness sake’ gets old after a while. This is a very good movie, but some are going to appreciate it a lot more than others. Grade: 8/10
Photos © 2014 Fox Searchlight