Format: DVD from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.
I realize that not everyone likes Wes Anderson. I don’t think he’s an acquired taste. I think he’s either a director that you like or that you don’t. I tend to like him, although I find that a little Wes Anderson goes a long way. It had been awhile since I watched a Wes Anderson film, so when I saw that The Grand Budapest Hotel was available from NetFlix, I put it at the top of the queue. Even if I hadn’t heard almost entirely good things about it, it was a film I was looking forward to seeing.
In many ways, it’s the least Wes Anderson film I’ve seen him do. Oh, the people involved still have that unique Wes Anderson-style OCD and a series of oddities and quirks, but there’s considerably less of that here than in most of his films. I’ll go so far as to say that of the Anderson films I’ve seen (not all but most), this is the one most likely to be enjoyed by people who don’t typically like Wes Anderson.
It’s also worth saying that having a reputation as a director like Wes Anderson comes with specific perks. This is a cast that is loaded from top to bottom, often with well-known actors having tiny parts and just a couple of lines. Bill Murray, Bob Balaban, Jason Schwartzman, Owen Wilson, and a few others are in the film for probably a day’s worth of shooting. Aside from the main character in the bulk of the film, pretty much everyone in every major role is recognizable as well. That’s got to be a valuable asset to have when you’re directing a project.
The Grand Budapest hotel is presented as a flashback within a flashback. A young woman is reading a book by a now-dead author about his conversation he had with a man named Zero Moustafa. And we jump inside the book, where the author (Jude Law) meets Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham) at the fading eponymous hotel in the fictional European country of Zubrowka. One night over dinner, Moustafa tells the author the story of the hotel and how he became involved in it, and thus we flashback again to the hotel at the time of its grandeur and especially to the time of its original concierge, M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes).
Here we meet the young Zero (Tony Revolori), recently hired as the new hotel lobby boy, indicated by his hat, which reads “Lobby Boy.” Gustave, who romances older female patrons and provides excellent service to all guests, runs a tight ship and decides that Zero will become his protégé. One elderly guest, Madame Celine Villeneuve Desgoffe und Taxis (Tilda Swinton) is particularly fond of Gustave, so it comes as a shock to everyone when she dies suddenly. Gustave is compelled to go to her wake, where he learns that she has willed him the invaluable painting Boy with Apple, much to the consternation of her relatives, particularly her son Dmitri (Adrien Brody).
Gustave and Zero steal the painting (since it now belongs to Gustave anyway). Madame Desgoffe und Taxis’s servant Serge (Mathieu Amalric) slips something behind the frame. This all leads to a chase involving the executor of the will (Jeff Goldblum), Dmitri’s evil henchman Jopling (Willem Dafoe), a police inspector who remembers Gustave from his childhood (Edward Norton), and a series of murders, chases, and pauses for Gustave to wax poetic and spray himself with cologne. It also involves Gustave being sent to prison where he teams up with a man named Ludwig (Harvey Keitel) to escape. There’s also a romantic subplot as Zero becomes enamored of Agatha (Saoirse Ronan), the apprentice to a local baker.
In effect, in addition to being a wildly entertaining story, The Grand Budapest Hotel plays out as something akin to a neo-noir. It has most of the components, but all of them are slightly skewed, and all of the skewing is done to make the film far more entertaining and funny.
There probably are some people who didn’t enjoy this film, but I have a hard time picturing those people. I’m not precisely sure why the film works as well as it does. Much of the joy of this comes from the performance of Ralph Fiennes. I haven’t seen any of the 2014 nominated Best Actor performances at this point, but I can only think that it’s the Academy’s general prejudice against comedy that prevented him from earning a nomination for this. Fiennes is funny throughout and never breaks character. It’s as good a performance as I’ve seen from Fiennes, and that says quite a bit. Much of the film rests on the shoulders of Tony Revolori, who is up to the task of sharing the screen with a horde of better-known actors.
I enjoyed the hell out of this movie. Usually when I watch one of Anderson’s films I’m sated for a few months and have no desire to watch one of his films again. In this case, I’d happily sit down and watch this again right now. That more than anything speaks to the quality of The Grand Budapest Hotel.
Why to watch The Grand Budapest Hotel: Wes Anderson and cast in top form.
Why not to watch: If you don’t like Wes Anderson, you may not be willing to risk it.