The Grand Budapest Hotel, set in the 1960’s and early 1930’s, centers on an extraordinary hotel concierge, M. Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes), and his lobby boy mentee, Zero (Tony Revolori). It’s told as a story by Mr. Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham), the current owner of the once glorious hotel, to a young writer (Jude Law), over a red wine and lamb dinner in the empty hotel dining room. The film, which was both directed and written by Wes Anderson, is like a colorful fairy tale, full of outlandish characters, breath-taking scenery, nail-biting plot twists, and ironic humor throughout. It’s whimsical, quirky, and classic Wes Anderson.
M. Gustave H is a well-liked concierge in pre-WWII Budapest, who runs his hotel like a well-oiled machine and at the same time hob knobs with the wealthy aristocratic hotel guests. He takes on a new hire, Zero, and they soon become friends. When one of Gustave’s most-loved guests, Madame D. (Tilda Swinton) is unexpectedly murdered, he finds himself as the prime suspect and enlists the help of Zero to clear his name. They dodge irate family members like Dmitri (Adrien Brody) and his hired hit-man Jopling (William Dafoe), encounter the world’s most meticulous lawyer, Deputy Kovacs (Jeff Goldblum), make friends with a gang of convicts led by Ludwig (Harvey Keitel), pull favor with the captain of a Fascist police squad, Henckels (Edward Norton), rely on the camaraderie of a secret hotel employee society, led by M. Ivan (Bill Murray), and get assistance from Zero’s first love Agatha (Saoirse Ronan), who in this film makes up for her ridiculous turn as a half-human/half-parasite in last year’s sci-fi film gone bad, The Host.
The Grand Budapest Hotel does everything right. It’s creative, original, engaging, quick-paced, and witty. There are so many things that work, it’s impossible to list them all. But there were three things that stood out, beyond the usual great acting, directing, and writing. The first was the use of so many well-known actors in cameo bits. When involving so many actors, especially from past projects, the potential for it to go wrong and look like you’re just showing off how cool you are is high. Case in point: Gary Marshall’s Valentine’s Day and New Year’s Eve films threw celebrities at us ad-nauseam. Although Anderson taps into his list of actors that have supported him in previous films, their on-screen presence is both appealing and fresh. Whether it was Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, or Owen Wilson popping up on-screen, they were met with cheers from the audience. My only complaint is that they weren’t utilized more.
Wes Anderson is an artist and his films can be compared to fine art one would find in a world-famous museum. Each scene setting is so colorful and vibrant, that proper credit must be given to Costume Designer Milena Canonero , Production Designer Adam Stockhausen, and Set Decorator Anna Pinnock. Whether it’s contrasting the hotel during its heyday in the 1930’s, when it was ostentatiously pink, to when it was run down and devoid of travelers in the 1960’s, when it screamed burnt orange and bad mod-furniture, to the luscious purple hotel employee uniforms, everything is a feast for the eyes.
Many films are just a retelling of the same story and when Wes Anderson concentrates a heavy portion of The Grand Budapest Hotel around a prison break, it could have resulted in the feeling that, “I’ve seen this before.” But Anderson crafts a compelling and hilarious prison break plan that revolves around pastries from the local bakery, and turns prison break stereotypes upside down. With Harvey Keitel”s character, Ludwig, running the operation, I did get feelings of Pulp Fiction déjà vu, but summoning up The Wolf is a compliment in and of itself.
After a heavy 2013 Oscar season, it’s refreshing to see a film early in 2014 capture one of the reasons why many movie connoisseurs go to the theaters, which is to see something spectacular. Yes, movies are designed to entertain us and teach us, but we often forget that they can serve a simpler purpose and just wow us. The Grand Budapest Hotel is not just a film, it’s a work of art.
Take a Drink: every time an actor from a previous Wes Anderson film appears on-screen.
Take a Drink: every time you see a pink box from Mendl’s Bakery.
Take a Drink: every time someone gets killed. (Including felines.)
Do a Shot: every time Zero says, “Don’t flirt with her.”