The Grand Budapest Hotel is the latest film from Wes Anderson that exists in the universe that only he inhabits. It is a love letter to nostalgia and technique that seeks to justify not only his particular place in cinematic history, but perhaps film as a whole. It also serves as being the most Wes Andersonish film Wes Anderson has made while alternately being the most accessible. The film is a story within a story within a story, while also being a comedy/ heist/ jailbreak/ war/ chase film. Grand Budapest is incredibly ambitious and dense yet never feels too cluttered. It even manages to sneak in some stop motion sequences for good measure. If this had only been an exercise in style and technique Wes Anderson would still deserve praise. As it is, The Grand Budapest Hotel is all of that plus being brilliantly acted, a study in comedic timing, and delightfully charming as well.
The story begins with an author recounting a story that he was told years earlier that actually took place many years before that. The main plot concerns Gustave H. who is concierge at the titular hotel as he trains, and somewhat befriends, a young lobby boy during rather tumultuous times during a fictionalized version of Eastern Europe in the 1930’s. To give away much more would deprive the pleasure found in letting this story unfold. Comedies in particular suffer when too much is known about the plot, so I will leave it be and instead focus my attention on other matters.
Wes Anderson has assembled every third actor in Hollywood for this film. Ralph Fiennes and newcomer Tony Revolori have the most screen time, but there are supporting turns from Jude Law, F. Murray Abraham, Tom Wilkinson, Jeff Goldblum, Saoirse Ronan, Willem Dafoe, Adrien Brody, Edward Norton, Harvey Keitel, and Bill Murray among others. Each and every actor feels perfectly placed in the world even when they shouldn’t fit. Edward Norton, for example, plays the nicest faux-Nazi ever and never even attempts to act German, yet it feels completely organic. This is a testament to Anderson’s ability to realize his particular vision on screen.
Ralph Fiennes anchors this film as the charming English dandy that is both eloquent and profane. Fiennes is remarkable in this role. While he is widely known for playing the baddies and creeps (Lord Voldemort et al.) he shows a brilliant comedic timing and oozes charm into a role that could easily have been either viciously snide or wandered into parody. His tone is perfect and energizes the film in addition to landing the most laughs. The cast is stellar all around, but I believe particular mention must be made to this wonderful and somewhat unexpected turn from Fiennes. This was a tight rope of a role and Fiennes walked it as very few could have.
Wes Anderson has long been criticized for making the same movie over and over and his detractors will make the same complaint here. Anderson has found a style uniquely his own and rather than abandon it he has embraced the whimsy with a great zest. However, The Grand Budapest Hotel also shows signs of Anderson experimenting in some new ways. There are his typical dolly shots and swish pans to be sure, but here he also highlights different aspect ratios and utilizes symmetry even more forcefully than normal. The difference in aspect ratios for different segments of the film is notable because Anderson uses sight gags that only work when they are presented in the format that they appear in. He is pushing beyond the boundaries of being quirky for quirk’s sake and framing his shots in ways that complement the material. The Grand Budapest Hotel is a definitive step forward in Anderson’s career, showing that he is capable of telling a unique story to accompany his unique visual style. Grade: A