The Good: Very funny, Wonderful acting, Engaging plot and characters, Impressive direction
The Bad: Needlessly complicated narrative technique, A number of the characters do not get developed due to the size of the cast
The Basics: Rightfully being called one of the best films of 2014, The Grand Budapest Hotel restores the reputation of Wes Anderson by creating an entertaining and enduring film!
When The Grand Budapest Hotel started to rack up award nominations this award’s season, I had the distinct feeling that the film was being treated as something of a “lifetime achievement award” for writer-director Wes Anderson. After all, Wes Anderson has made some masterful films, but after peaking with The Royal Tenenbaums (reviewed here!), the argument can be pretty easily made that he has simply been rehashing and reworking that movie for at least his two subsequent works - The Life Aquatic Of With Steve Zissou (reviewed here!) and The Darjeeling Limited (reviewed here!). The only Wes Anderson film I have not seen is Moonrise Kingdom and my failure to give it attention was the result of disillusionment following his post-The Royal Tenenbaums films.
So, my expectations were low when I sat down to watch The Grand Budapest Hotel. In fact, my viewing The Grand Budapest Hotel was more an obligatory viewing due to my desire to watch all of the Best Picture Oscar nominees this year. So, when I come out singing the praises of The Grand Budapest Hotel and director Wes Anderson, it is because the film is truly that good. With Anderson’s distinctive sense of style and color and a cast made up mostly of alumni from his prior works, Anderson was given the seemingly daunting task of creating something new and memorable with The Grand Budapest Hotel. He, and his cast and production team, succeeded.
An author sits down and tells the story of his younger self having the story of Zubrowska’s famed Grand Budapest Hotel narrated to him. Moustafa tells the story of how, as a boy, he was a Lobby Boy at the Grand Budapest Hotel during the turbulent time when it was switching owners. The young Lobby Boy Zero befriends the concierge of the Grand Budapest Hotel, M. Gustave. Gustave is a smart, efficient man who has been bedding the exceptionally wealthy Madame D. Madame D. dies abruptly and Gustave goes to her estate where he is surprisingly willed the famous painting Boy With Apple.
The priceless painting is coveted by Madame D.’s sons Dimitri and Jopling, as well as her three daughters. Gustave is framed by one of Madame D.’s servants as the man who killed Madame D. and he begins his run from the law. Unfortunately, he runs pretty much right away into the arms of Inspector Henckels, who has Gustave imprisoned. Gustave must rely upon the efforts of Zero to rescue him so they can sell the painting and live their lives. But Jopling is a homicidal maniac intent upon finding Gustave and his hunt starts to cut a swath of death through Zubrowska toward Gustave, Zero, and Zero’s fiancé, Agatha.
The Grand Budapest Hotel is essentially a screwball comedy and Wes Anderson goes to great lengths to give the film a retro feel and sense of melodrama. What makes The Grand Budapest Hotel work so well is that Anderson mixes things like special effect “skips” and exaggerated movements with more contemporary color palates and incredible performances by some of the best actors working today. With such an extensive cast, Anderson is unable to use them all well; Tom Wilkinson’s part in The Grand Budapest Hotel is essentially a cameo where he is not given the chance to plumb his performing depths. Similarly, Jude Law’s performance as the younger version of Wilkinson’s author character only has him on screen long enough to get the viewer into the narrative of M. Gustave and Zero, as opposed to forcing him to play anything impressive.
The story of The Grand Budapest Hotel is an engaging chase story that feels classic, but has a contemporary level of dialogue. Ralph Fiennes swears his way through The Grand Budapest Hotel and Willem Dafoe’s psychopathic Jopling is chilling in a way that early films would not have dared. In the chase, Gustave becomes a likable protagonist, as does Zero. Zero is given enough backstory to make him compelling – even if the love story of Zero and Agatha is somewhat contrived (it plays into a line about A to Z) and simple.
The performances in The Grand Budapest Hotel are appropriately exceptional. Jeff Goldblum is virtually unrecognizable as the lawyer Kovacs and Adrien Brody is similarly chameleonic as Dmitri. Tilda Swinton’s brief appearance on screen proves that The Grand Budapest Hotel should win a bevy of make-up awards. Even Saoirse Ronan gives a career high performance – her time on screen shows more range and genuine emotion than she did in the entirety of The Host (reviewed here!).
The surprise is how well Tony Revolori plays off Ralph Fiennes. Revolori is given a part that could easily be relegated to hapless sidekick, but in key moments, he steels his eyes and holds his own on screen with Fiennes. Revolori has on-screen panache that makes Zero distinct and the logical antecedent to F. Murray Abraham’s incarnation of the character.
The Grand Budapest Hotel is one of the few films in recent memory that ought to be seen and experienced as opposed to discussed. It is funny, stylish and original enough to decimate any assertion that its nominations are more for Anderson and his body of work than this specific film!
For other films with intriguing narrative techniques, please visit my reviews of:
Stranger Than Fiction
For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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