In a Hollywood landscape that’s gone cookie cutter, franchise-mad, you’re almost forced to admire Wes Anderson for creating a style of film that’s indelibly unique and completely his own. That’s not to say I like his films. I’ve found them to be hit or miss, but I really loved Moonrise Kingdom, so with all the great buzz, I was looking forward to The Grand Budapest Hotel.
The film’s complex structure is told over a period of sixty years, by one very special guest of the hotel to a visiting author. The tale centers around M. Gustav (Ralph Fiennes), the most famous concierge in the Grand Budapest’s history, and his faithful lobby boy, Zero. The film’s extremely complex structure does not lend itself well to a plot synopsis, but in its simplest form, M. Gustav and Zero find themselves on the fun after Gustav steals a painting from the estate of a deceased guest who loved him.
I’ve done the plot a disservice, but I have no idea how to describe the cascading set of narrative devices used to hop between decades without being much smarter than I actually am. Anderson builds a growing sense of absurdism throughout the film mostly via Fiennes’ over-the-top (but wonderfully so) M. Gustav who is something like a depraved Phineas Fogg, wheedling and coniving his way through Europe as the army (lead by Edward Norton) chase him. There are several laugh out loud moments and then something odd happens. The tone of the film was this building tide of absurdity, but the ending of the film, without giving anything away, is startlingly morose and I didn’t feel it flowed with the rest of the narrative.
The film looks fantastic, utilizing color as well as any film I’ve ever seen. The cast is just ridiculous. There are Oscar-nominated actors who have 10 second parts in this film. In addition to Fiennes and Norton there’s Jude Law, F. Murray Abraham, Tilda Swinton, Bill Murray, Bob Balaban, Owen Wilson, Saorise Ronan, Willem DaFoe, Jeff Goldblum, and the list goes on and on.
In the end, The Grand Budapest was fun, but not the tour de force it could have been. A slow burn in the first act combined with the weirdly solemn ending left me with just pieces of it to enjoy rather than a complete triumph. I’d say it’s still worth a rental if you know Anderson’s style going into the endeavor.