Wes Anderson is a film maker with a distinct voice. He tells stories with emotional cores and often tells them using characters that don’t always seen to want to, or even know how to, express those emotions and sets them in a world that is just over the border into absurdity and littered with all kinds of fine detail, interesting colour palettes, and now stop motion.
Basically he crafts a whimsical world and then populates it with non-whimsical people.
In any event, The Grand Budapest Hotel may be his best film yet by virtue of the fact that it’s probably the most Wes-Anderson-y film he’s made to date, but in the best way possible.
The film concerns the story of Zero the lobby boy at the titular hotel as he accompanies his mentor, the Concierge Gustave H, in a quest to clear Gustave’s name for the murder of his elderly friend and lover, Madame D, after she bequeathed to him a rare and priceless painting much to the annoyance of her family, every one of which had hoped to inherit it.
This story is being narrated by an older Zero, now owner of the hotel, to a writer played by Jude Law, who’s older self, played by Tom Wilkinson, is narrating the story to a girl on a park bench reading the book he subsequently wrote.
If that sounds complicated don’t worry, it’s perfectly and logically woven together, and even features aspect ratio changes for each of the time periods the film takes place in. This is because Anderson is actually very good at telling the stories he wants to tell and at telling them the way he wants to tell them.
He also has a knack for casting his films well, with regular players like Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman in the background, but also this time around with Ralph Fiennes doing the kind of weird physical comedy that for some reason Shakespearean actors excel at. Fiennes is hilarious as Gustave, bouncing back and forth between polite and accommodating to crude and selfish.
GUSTAVE: I do have an alibi but she’s married and I couldn’t possibly bring her good name into this mess.
ZERO: But your very life may be at stake, sir!
GUSTAVE: Yes but the bitch legged it.
It’s Fiennes delivery is these exchanges, with Zero as the straight man / set up guy that makes the movie. Speaking of Zero, he’s played by newcomer Tony Revolori. I’d love to tell you if he’s a good actor or not but to be honest all I can tell you for sure is that he’s great for this part. He’s great at doing all the things that a Wes Anderson movie needs him to do. Time will tell if that translates to other things, but I’m hopeful at least.
The rest of the cast works well also, particularly Tilda Swinton whose screen time is brief but between her mannerism and the fantastic age makeup is something to behold, and Willem Dafoe as the creepy henchman to Adrien Brody’s antagonist, mouth slightly agape at all times you never know if he’s going to walk away of murder your cat.
All in all The Grand Budapest Hotel is a great movie. It’s fun, engaging, and hilarious. It explores themes of camaraderie and love, and all the weirdness in between. It has a stellar cast and a singular vision, and an extended downhill skiing chase sequence executed using stop motion and close camera work. So go see it already.