The centered photography, the immaculate production design, the tweed costumes, the specific title cards, the pastel colors, Bill Murray – these are just a few of the things that help Wes Anderson establish his universe. For lovers of his work, these many tell-tale signs are what make us love Anderson’s films. For detractors, these devices act only as a nuisance. As I watched his latest film, The Grand Budapest Hotel, I had a consistent thought: Wes Anderson lovers are going to love this film, and Wes Anderson haters are going to really hate it.
In many ways, this is the biggest film Anderson has made yet, with a vast call sheet of actors, and an epic narrative that spans upwards of 80 years. The film, and try to stay with me here, starts in the present, with a young girl reading a book in a park. From there, we jump back a few years, where we meet the author of that book (Tom Wilkinson) who addresses the audience directly. From there, we jump back to the ‘60s and listen as the author (now played by Jude Law) shares his experience with the night he spent at the Grand Budapest Hotel, dining with its owner, Zero Moustafa (played by F. Murray Abraham). From there, we jump back to the ‘30s and listen as the author (narrated by Law) retells us the story of Zero Moustafa (now played by newcomer Tony Revolori).
Essentially, the narrative is the prose of a book, told by the author, told by the person it happened to. Sure, it’s a bit complicated, but it’s just one thing that makes this film so unique. (For added fun, each timeframe in the movie is presented in a different aspect ratio.) I honestly can’t remember seeing a narrative shaped in such a way before. And that’s enough to make me interested.
Zero recounts his early years as a Lobby Boy at the Grand Budapest Hotel, and how he came under the spirited tutelage of the hotel’s most esteemed worker, a concierge named M. Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes, inhabiting Anderson’s world perfectly). Zero’s story centers on one of the Grand Budapest’s most loyal guests, Madame D. (Tilda Swinton), who, following her death, left an invaluable painting to Gustave in her will. This infuriates Madame D.’s son, Dmitri (Adrien Brody), who does everything in his power to destroy Gustave and reclaim the art.
The film follows Zero and Gustave on their whimsical journey of good vs. evil, art vs. savagery, cat vs. concrete. They encounter dozens of colorful characters along the way, some of whom help Gustave and his plight, while others attempt to prey on it.
In addition to its large cast and broad scope, The Grand Budapest Hotel may be the most Wes Andersonian film Wes Anderson has made in years. The witty, academic dialogue is here (great to have Anderson characters casually cursing again, by the way), Robert Yeoman’s signature cinematography, a delightful Alexandre Desplat score, and so on. An additional audacious touch is that all of the actors speak in their real voices. A few (namely Edward Norton) attempt subtle cultural accents, but for the most part, the performers talk as themselves, even if it doesn’t make geographical sense. Jeff Goldblum sounds like Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel sounds like he’s in a Scorsese flick, Saoirse Ronan sounds Irish, Léa Seydoux speaks French, all to consistently amusing results.
As mentioned, if you’re a fan of Wes Anderson’s work, you’re going to enjoy The Grand Budapest Hotel. If you don’t vibe with Anderson’s style, then I can’t see this film being of any benefit to you. For me, The Grand Budapest Hotel ranks just below Anderson’s great films. I had a sensational time watching it, but highly doubt I’ll find the need to revisit it anytime soon. But in the moment, packed in a dark theater with hundreds of strangers, The Grand Budapest Hotel kept reminding me to appreciate the pleasures of cinematic style. And that’s certainly enough to make it worthwhile. B