The Grand Budapest Hotel Review
Wes Anderson’s anti-war, period European ensemble comedy
A Wes Anderson film has become synonymous with a French new wave style, unforgettable color schemes, a perfectly-selected soundtrack, and a talented, experienced cast (generally enlisting the services of Bill Murray, one or both of the Wilson brothers and Jason Schwartzman); however, there’s more to love about The Grand Budapest Hotel than its palate of vibrant hotel reds and talented, extended cast. The Grand Budapest Hotel certainly isn’t as light-hearted as Anderson’s last film — the fan- and critic-lauded Moonrise Kingdom, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the film lacks heart altogether.
Instead of following the cute, adorable antics of the young, innocent runaways in sixties-era New England from Moonrise Kingdom, the blossoming romance of The Grand Budapest Hotel’sstar-crossed lovers plays second fiddle to the relationship between the legendary concierge Monsieur Gustave H. (Academy Award-nominee Ralph Fiennes) and Zero, our lobby boy protagonist (Tony Revolori) — one half of the picture’s romantic interest. Zero’s journey is a strange adventure and he’s certainly willing to tell it. We first meet Zero at film’s start as an old man (Academy Award winner F. Murray Abraham- Amadeus) staying at the decrepit European hotel in the 1960s. Zero catches the attention of a journalist (Jude Law) who wants to hear all about the heyday of the mythical Grand Budapest Hotel.
Here is where the plot thickens. Zero insists that the crux of his tale focuses on a wealthy, ancient widow (Academy Award winner Tilda Swinton- Michael Clayton) and a ludicrously valuable painting in her possession. The widow is just one of M. Gustave H.’s many blonde, wealthy, old widowed bed companions in what seems to be some sort of similar arrangement to that of Max Bialystock and his “backers” in The Producers. Once Zero flashes back to the 30s, the film really picks up steam.
Zero begins with the day he first met Gustave H. At first, their relationship appears as if it will take the father-son path, but instead takes a much more interesting development into a “Batman-and-Robinesque” brotherhood by the time all is said and done. Although Gustave seems to sleep around and bed every octogenarian in his hotel, Zero always has a kind word to say about him. Through Gustave, Zero meets a cavalcade of unforgettable characters, situations, works of art, and secret societies that he never imagined possible — including his first and last love, Agatha (Academy Award nominee Saoirse Ronan) the baker’s daughter.
The film takes place in two theaters I never want to experience first-hand: war and prison. Although the film mostly shot on sets for the hotel and prison scenes, Robert Yeoman’s cinematography captured the beauty of Europe as it seemingly used to look in every single exterior opportunity the film provides. As Zero and Gustave travel about a fictional European country between the wars, the camera shows just how breathtaking the countryside can be for a couple fugitives.
It’s the wars that keep the film on point, as well. Zero wouldn’t be in Europe if it wasn’t for the war. The audience hears neither point of view nor gets the sense of “good country” or “bad country.” Instead, Anderson takes the trail blazed by none other than Stanley Kubrick in his anti-war films Paths of Glory and Fear and Desire. (Full Metal Jacket is also anti-war, but the sides are clearly drawn and stated in that particular instance.) We aren’t given the specifics of the war (not even its title); all we know is what Zero knows: war happened and now he is without a family and a country. No fingers are pointed at a particular political faction. Anderson doesn’t take the time to play the blame game; instead he simply puts Zero up for display and lets him tell his story. Through Zero we also learn the hardships of a refugee in 1930s Europe. M. Gustave gleans a measure of humanity from Zero’s struggle and takes the boy under his wing to teach him the hotel trade.
Although The Grand Budapest Hotel doesn’t have the upbeat, recognizable soundtrack that made Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou memorable, Anderson’s choice to follow the direction of classical, European selections certainly feels more appropriate to the setting of the film. A Paul Simon-fueled montage simply wouldn’t work in a picture inspired by the works of Victorian era Viennese author Stefan Zweig.
The Grand Budapest Hotel is a carousel of talented actors (including Bill Murray, Willem Dafoe, Adrien Brody, etc.) having fun and doing a great job at the same time. Although the film tends to touch the themes of Anderson’s darker side a la The Darjeeling Limited, The Grand Budapest Hotel manages to keep an element of fun and mystery in a world otherwise upset by war and murder. With his latest picture, Wes Anderson maintains his status as an in-demand, elite Hollywood filmmaker; proving that his films are an event not to be missed.