The Grand Budapest Hotel is one grand movie
Could ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ be Wes Anderson’s best movie yet? Why yes … yes it is.
Until now, I have seen only two Wes Anderson movies – The Royal Tenenbaums and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou – and neither of them made me even the least bit interested in seeing any of his other movies. But there was something in the previews and early reviews of The Grand Budapest Hotel that piqued my interest.
The story spans several time periods – the 30s, 60s and 80s – and is told in chapters, which is fitting because it’s actually a story told to an author who is then relating the story to us in his book. The Author (Tom Wilkinson) of the book recants his tale of meeting the owner of the hotel, and we flash back to 1960s, the land of Zubrowka, and the Author (now Jude Law) meeting the owner of the hotel, Mr. Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham), who offers to tell the Author (we never know his name) about how he came in possession of the hotel.
The story then flashes back to 1932 where we see a young Zero (Tony Revolori) on the job as a Lobby Boy and his first encounter with the concierge, M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes). M. Gustave, unsure of the boy at first, eventually takes him under his wing and shows him how the hotel should be run. M. Gustave also has the proclivity to bed many of his elderly, female guests including Madame D. (Tilda Swinton in some awesome old age makeup), who ends up murdered, leaves M. Gustave a valuable painting against her family’s wishes, and then Gustave finds himself framed for her murder. This sets the rest of the story in motion, but to reveal any more would be unfair … and fairly impossible (but in a good way).
Anderson has become known for his amazing production design (like The Life Aquatic‘s multi-level submarine set), and for me the style seemed more important than the substance. The Grand Budapest Hotel has both style and substance galore. Both eras of the hotel, the lavish 30s and the tacky 80s, are magnificent creations, and are characters in the story as much as the humans are. The exteriors of the hotel and the adjacent mountains and valleys are all rendered in a very artistic manner, never once looking real but never allowing the artifice to take away from the story. The entire film is beautifully designed (and, if Oscar voters don’t forget about it by December, it should be up for several Oscars in the production design and hair and make-up categories).
The film is also filled with a dizzying array of stars including appearances by Jason Schwartzman, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Edward Norton, Owen Wilson, Bob Balaban, Fisher Stevens, Soairse Ronan and, yes, Anderson favorite Bill Murray. All of them turn in excellent performances even in what amount to cameos, delivering Anderson’s complicated, snappy and hilarious dialog with aplomb. The 1930s portion of the film crackles with the wit and fast talking that became a hallmark of that era’s screwball comedies, and Anderson pays homage to those films beautifully.
In addition to Anderson’s eye for period detail, he also sets each era of the film apart by using changing aspect ratios, from the square 4×3 image common to the 30s to a Cinemascope-style ratio for the 1960s. The 80s is kind of a strange letterboxed image, like watching a widescreen movie on an old television. Some people may find the change in shape and size of the image a bit distracting, but movie buffs will get a kick out of it. In addition to the visual feast on display, I have to call out Alexandre Desplat’s exhilarating score. It really is one of the best musical scores I’ve heard in a long time, and goes a long way in making one forget his overly bombastic music for The Monuments Men.
But when all is said and done, as much as this is Anderson’s movie, the real stars of the show are Fiennes and Revolori. Fiennes really seems to be having the time of his life playing the fast-talking M. Gustave, quick with a one-liner or two, and invests him with much more depth than we might expect when first meeting the stuffy, uppity concierge. He seems to care about Madame D. and we see his relationship with young Zero deepen as their escapades through Zubrowka take them from the hotel to prison to a monastery and back again. Fiennes makes the role his own and you really can’t imagine anyone else as M. Gustave. Revolori matches Fiennes beat for beat with his often deadpan delivery, but he’s ultimately charming as he looks up to Gustave and falls in love with the baker, Agatha (Ronan). Both are wonderful performances that should be remembered come award season.
I may not have been a fan of Anderson’s previous work, but The Grand Budapest Hotel went beyond my expectations and should be regarded as one of his best films by those who do like his previous movies. It’s certainly one which demands repeat viewing just to catch all of the little details. The Grand Budapest Hotel will definitely be on my Top Ten list for 2014.