Raucous, hilarious, nostalgic; Anderson’s latest is pure entertainment from start to finish.
BY RYAN MILOWICKI
Is there any director in Hollywood today that is more confident than Wes Anderson?
The Grand Budapest Hotel is just his 8th feature film, yet he has a visual style synonymous with his name, an envious ability to swoop up gigantic casts, and the obstinacy to throw his nay-sayers to the wind and craft the films he wishes to make again and again.
His latest offering features in spades everything that Anderson fans have come to crave, taken to the Nth degree. Will The Grand Budapest Hotel win him any new fans? It’s hard to say. But for someone like me who has always been a huge fan, this is exactly the film I was hoping for.
Set in pre-World War II Eastern Europe, Anderson infuses a very real period of turmoil and societal evolution with his trademark brand of magic realism. Standing at the forefront of his picturesque setting is the hot pink titular hotel, a simultaneous beacon of opulence and hallmark of how quickly times change. Set as a frame within a frame, an anonymous author (played by Tom Wilkinson in later life and Jude Law as a younger man) details how he came to learn of the story of legendary concierge Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes) and his lobby boy Zero (newcomer Tony Revolori). As we’ve come to expect from Anderson films, the story revolves around a caper-filled quest as the unlikely duo race to solve a murder and exonerate themselves from crimes they didn’t commit.
The first thing that hits you from the start is the production design. To begin with, I am quite familiar with Anderson’s penchant for crafting inventive and visually arresting set pieces, but never on this scale. There isn’t just one elaborate Tenenbaum house, or one ship helmed by Steve Zissou. Rather, the adventures of Gustave and Zero take them to a variety of homes, vistas, prisons, and even museums, each of which are rendered with stunning attention to detail and eye-popping color. It can easily be argued that Anderson specializes in making films for adults which function like cartoons, and the surreal beauty of his settings certainly attest to this assertion.
Once you’ve settled in to the lovely world Anderson has fashioned, the next thing you notice is all the familiar faces. Almost everybody you’ve come to expect in his films show up to give their due cameo (Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Owen Wilson, Ed Norton, and Adrien Brody, to name a few), and the entire cast performs with the utmost care and joy. Particularly memorable supporting turns come from Jeff Goldblum as the well-intended attorney determined to handle the events in the most equitable way possible, and Willem Dafoe as the brutally violent and brutally funny hitman out to break in his brass knuckles.
To that point, Grand Budapest Hotel may very well be Anderson’s funniest film yet. If not in terms of traditional comedy, it certainly features the blackest humor he has ever churned out. Severed heads, comically dismembered fingers, knife fights, it’s all par for the course here. But somehow, all of this violence extends the overarching magic realism and infuses these otherwise tense moments with brilliant bursts of comic timing.
That being said. there is also an abundance of feeling in this film. And at the center of it all is an incredibly charismatic and nuanced performance by Ralph Fiennes. He is a glorious addition to the Wes Anderson compendium of actors, and he gives an equally gut-busting and heart-rending turn as both primary joke spinster and undoubted father figure. His relationship with Zero never falls flat, and as it progresses from purely professional to purely familial, the depth of character exponentially increases. One of Anderson’s largest shortcomings in previous films is creating characters who are too difficult to place in real sympathy. While Gustave is certainly as zany and idiosyncratic as they come, so much care and time is spent on developing him, and it pays great dividends. Paired with the melancholy frame of the 1960s decadence of the hotel, the film serves as much as a loss of innocence and bliss piece as it is a coming of age tale for young Zero.
While it lacks the wholeheartedly real characters of Rushmore and the deeper familial emotions of The Royal Tenenbaums, The Grand Budapest Hotel is a breeze of pure entertainment, and should be regarded as one of Anderson’s best. Here is a filmmaker sure of his abilities, with the financial and creative independence to make every one of his dreams come to life. Not a moment goes by where the viewer is not either laughing out loud, ogling in wonder at the picturesque images being portrayed on the screen, or being utterly swept away by a creative, engaging, and well-paced narrative. The 99 minutes flew by, due in no small part to the trademark Anderson titled sequences of the movie. If you’re the type of filmgoer that dislikes Anderson and his stylistic tropes, then there is no convincing you otherwise, because Wes simply isn’t interested in compromise. This is a film for his diehards, and it connects with dazzling frequency for those in that camp.
RYAN’s RATING: 3.5 Stars out of 4