The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
The Grand Budapest Hotel is coming to Blu-ray and DVD on June 17.
When you see (or hear) about a Wes Anderson film, it is immediately apparent the mind behind the film They are as perfectly composed as any films made; sometimes to the point of also being derivative, childish, and even cold. I agreed that Moonrise Kingdom was a lovely, sweet film and vast improvement on Anderson’s previous The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and The Darjeeling Ltd. But even Moonrise Kingdom had me feeling a bit tired of the “Wes Anderson” style, as if no longer developing as an artist in fear of losing his loyal fan base.
However, those concerns have been wiped away with the arrival of his latest film, The Grand Budapest Hotel. A silly, smart, and completely entertaining cinematic farce, Anderson breathes new life into his auteurist style, and shows a maturity and confidence as a filmmaker I have never see from him. Every element of the film is motivated by a sense of what will enhance the film; thinking about what will add to the humor, characters, and narrative. And the person who seems to be laughing hardest at this masterpiece is Anderson himself.
The Grand Budapest Hotel is a piece of true farce, in the tradition of the classic comedies such as Laurel and Hardy, Chaplin, Keaton, Lubitsch and even The Pink Panther. The film tells the story of a time gone by, when a flamboyant man was described as colorful. Such a man is M. Gustave, a beloved man whose very existence is to please the spoiled, rich, childish guests of his hotel, where he serves with dignity and pride as a concierge. At the Grand Budapest Hotel, he meets Zero (Tony Revolori) a new bell boy who becomes Gustave’s protégé when he shows the same narrow ambition to excel in his new profession of service. The mentorship becomes something more paternal, and eventually a friendship which offers plenty of buddy comedy moments in the film.
The film quickly turns out to be a wacky murder mystery when Gustave’s longtime friend and occasional companion (he also services the old women who comes to the hotel) dies. Gustave ends up with a priceless painting, which enraged the already unhinged son (Adrien Brody) and his henchman (Williem Dafoe). Gustave is sent to prison for murder and Zero must find a way to save him before it’s too late. He is aided by his love, a lowly baker named Agatha (Saoirse Ronan), a perfect name for a smart girl who can help solve a murder. If the film sounds confusing, it is to Anderson’s credit that he shows the same detail for plotting as he is known to have for visuals. He keeps all the balls spinning, moving the story along and characters involved. Anderson began his career with a heist film, Bottle Rocket, and those narrative skills remain finely tuned.
It is of little surprise that an Anderson film looks as good as it does, this time incorporating miniatures, puppets, painted back drops, and historical detail along with his signature visual themes. There is the recognizable introduction of characters, narrators, long shots and pan-shots to add theatricality to his cinema. However, all these troupes are played for laughs, rather seeming precious or pretentious as he sometimes is guilty. One especially welcome quality is his use of negative space, which adds considerable detail to his sometimes cluttered shots. It also focuses your attention on the shear depth of field Anderson is able to establish with his cinematic eye. While I’m sure he could, I hope that Anderson never makes a 3D picture, for he is able to create the illusion of depth which is gradually being lost is the increasing rise of 3D imaging.
But the aspects which enhances The Grand Budapest Hotel, elevating it as one of Anderson’s best, is the script Anderson has written, this time alone, but with a story developed with friend Hugo Guinness (the artist who created Eli’s politically incorrect art in The Royal Tenenbaums). There is a new found ease in this screenwriting, with crisp dialogue and both poetic and edgy (and with Adrien Brody’s character, at times vulgar). Every characters voice is specific, especially Zero and Gustave.
Brody and Dafoe, as the broadest characters I’ve ever seen in an Anderson movie, play their classic villains with a complete lack of ego, delighting in every mustache twirl and knuckle clench they are allowed to play. Between his roles in The Brothers Bloom, Midnight in Paris, and now this, I would be more than happy if Brody committed his career to comedies. And similarly, I found myself wishing Dafoe, along with F. Murray Abraham, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, and Edward Norton were used in more comedies with the intelligence Anderson uses them here. Ronan, continuing her rise to become the next Meryl Streep, joins the Anderson family effortlessly, as does relative newcomer Revolori. Revolori has the necessary chemistry with both Ronan and Fiennes, and his puppy dog quality makes it easy for the audience to invest in his Dickens-esque, orphan journey.
But the movie belongs to one person, Ralph Fiennes, who seems to be having the time of his life as Gustave. Channeling the elegance of William Powell, flamboyant suaveness of Fred Astaire, and obliviousness of Inspector Clauseo, Fiennes has created a hilarious character with real heart. The performance is the best the Oscar nominee has ever put to film…and one the Academy should remember a few months from now.
Is the film perfect? No, but it is certainly closer than anything I’ve seen from Anderson in a decade. In truth, I feel that Owen Wilson no longer fits Anderson’s style. The actor is simply too relaxed to fit into the formalist performances Anderson needs from his actors. The rest of the cast seem to be incapable of slouching, which is all Wilson does, and at this point, Wilson’s along with Bill Murray’s and Jason Schwartzman’s performances, seem to be nothing more than cameos given out of loyalty rather than cast with the intention of improving or adding to an Anderson film.
Also, I found the ending to be a more forced in an attempt to be poignant, and ends the film on an unnatural down note which simply doesn’t fit. Even if the very events which conclude the film had occurred in a slightly different manner, the film might not have ended with the sour note it does. But even this minor complaint does little to hurt my opinions of The Grand Budapest Hotel as an otherwise delirious, wonderful cinematic experience. Anderson’s films have become an event, and this time, he is offering his fans a very fun ride.
The Grand Budapest Hotel is coming to Blu-ray and DVD on June 17.