Review: “The Grand Budapest Hotel”

Calling Wes Anderson a filmmaker seems disingenuous at this point. Through his films, Anderson has created a unique and recognizable world all his own, a universe of deliberate movements and staccato responses. With “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” Anderson shows us a very different part of that world, simultaneously familiar to long-time fans and entirely new.

The titular Grand Budapest Hotel has already been destroyed when the film begins. The storytelling is layered — a young woman reads a book by the author’s headstone, covered in hotel keys left in tribute to the tale he told of the once spectacular hotel and the man who made it what it was, concierge Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes). The author was told the story by Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori), who joined the Grand Budapest staff as a lobby boy and became the confidante and right-hand man to Gustave in the adventure story we see play out on screen.

Although reminiscent of the narration style used in “The Royal Tenenbaums,” it is Moustafa who tells the story, now in his old age, to the author we meet in the first moments of the film. The author, played by Tom Wilkinson and Jude Law, makes clear he wrote down the story precisely as it was told to him before flashing back to his own early visit to the Grand Budapest, where he learned the story of Madame D’s murder and Gustave H’s efforts to save the priceless painting she left him. Saoirse Rowan, as Moustafa’s love Agatha, is a wonderful part of the gang, but her character felt underused until near the end.

The acting in “Grand Budapest” is thoroughly enjoyable. Fiennes is perfection as Gustave, hitting the place between loneliness and overconfidence without weighing him down. Adrien Brody, as Madame D’s son, is a terrifying yet hilarious caricature of a silent film villain. Bill Murray, in a short cameo, left me laughing so hard I cried with the brilliant delivery of just one word. Although featuring Anderson’s signature dialogue style, one gets the sense that actors were encouraged to push past the often monotone, dry humor speaking style often used in Anderson’s films.

Unlike Anderson’s past work, family dynamics are not the central focus of “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” Instead, we see the development of relationships between people in moments of distinct need, such as the need to escape from prison or the need to pose as bakery delivery men to infiltrated a hotel being used as barracks. The film also explores the relationship between people and the places or ways of life they love, and the inevitable loss as times leave them behind. The instinct to hold on as long as we can to the places that made us happy, and by extension the people, is what brings Zero Moustafa back to the Grand Budapest decades after the hotel stopped being all that grand.

There is also another distinct difference between “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and Anderson’s other work. His past work, particularly 2012’s “Moonrise Kingdom,” were showcases of subtlety. Characters were subdued, even repressed, and the plots turned on familial relationships. Not so with “Grand Budapest.” The film pushes Anderson’s established framework to the outer limits. “Grand Budapest” is more absurd, more violent, and more action-driven than any other film Anderson has done. It also features a significant amount of swearing, which was entirely unexpected and completely enjoyable. Characters react strongly in “Grand Budapest,” and the film is driven by often gory sight gags, including severed fingers and a dead cat in a bag. This is an action film taking place in Wes Anderson’s world, combining the best elements of both.

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” is, indeed grand. Bigger, louder, and sadder than Anderson’s other films, it proves an artist often called out for his distinctive style has plenty of room to play while staying true to what has made him so influential.

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