Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel is a madcap adventure through time and memory depicted in the director’s distinctive style can possibly be best described as charming and idiosyncratic. Anderson’s film have no illusions of reality. Instead the viewer is transported into a symmetrical, pastel world where everyone seems just a little too smart and talks just a little too fast. It is pure escapism; even the most mundane elements of everyday life manage to be interesting in an Anderson film. His latest work takes the audience into the tale quite literally by creating a story within a story within another story. (Inception much?) The story in question is about M. Gustave (Ralph Finnes), the concierge of the titular hotel. Gustave’s story is being told by Mr. Mustafa (F. Murray Abraham) to a writer (Jude Law) who has turned it into a book, which in turn is being read by a young girl. We are enveloped into this fictional world inside another world that Anderson has created so completely that we only remember that we are being told a story when he reminds us.
The Grand Budapest Hotel, while more action packed and bloody than most of Anderson’s films, lacks the emotional punch of the others. The slapdash story was occasionally hard to follow with some characters not given enough screen time or distinguishing characteristics. The one sentimental part was the relationship between Gustave and Zero (Tony Revolori), his young lobby boy. Finnes and Revolori had good chemistry, but nowhere near as strong as some of the other groupings in Anderson’s films (Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, and Adrien Brody in The Darjeerling Limited particularly comes to mind). One of the main problems The Grand Budapest Hotel suffers from is the fact that it is made by Wes Anderson. He has such a distinct style it is hard to compare his films to any but his own. And since his filmography is so strong The Grand Budapest Hotel is only weak because it does not hold up well against the others. (Similar to the Jackie Brown problem I experienced with Quentin Tarantino earlier this week.)
However, one of Anderson’s strengths is his ability to get new performances out of well known actors. Ralph Finnes has played many different characters throughout his career, but none like M. Gustave, the insecure, slightly pompous, blonde man who has a way of doing things that is all his own. In many ways, Gustave can be viewed as a representation Anderson himself; a man who embraces all of these things and represents them in his movies. It is Mr. Mustafa who says about Gustave,
“I think his world had vanished long before he ever entered it. But I will say he certainly sustained the illusion with marvelous grace.”
This line could be said about Anderson himself . The director knows his films are an illusion and he is enjoying the creating the worlds of his own mind as long as he can (and as long as we enjoy watching them).
It is no small feat to blend seamlessly into an Anderson film, but newcomer Revolori manages to pull it off. As Zero, a recent hire to The Grand Budapest, he is our guide into Gustave’s domain. And Anderson’s as well. His performance is reserved; he is the center that pulls in all of the pieces around him to make a more cohesive story. Saoirse Ronan as pastry chef Agatha is delightful, but underused, as are most of the females in the film. Adrien Brody seems to be channeling an angry Salvador Dali with his outfit and hair in his role as jilted son Dmitri and Willem Dafoe plays Jopling the hit-man with a righteous sneer and a hatred of cats. The rest of the cast is peppered with Anderson favorites like Owen Wilson, Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Ed Norton, and Jason Schwartzman.
The Grand Budapest Hotel is entertaining and Anderson-ey as the best of them (there’s one particularly great getaway on skies) and is surprisingly funny as well. It’s good for first time Anderson watchers too; my mom who previously declared when watching the trailer, “That looks like the most boring film ever,” actually enjoyed it. The score by Alexandre Desplat is worth a listen separate from the film because it is beautiful and transportive in its own right. The only flaw of the film is that it cannot quite reach the near impossible heights that Anderson has set for himself.
- My favorite Anderson film is probably a tie between The Royal Tenenbaums and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
- I can’t take anyone with the name “Lutz” seriously anymore thanks to 30 Rock