The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson, 2014)
This isn’t really a movie that you can trust a reviewer on. Or so my Dad found out when he trusted Margaret and David’s 5 and 4.5 star reviews and then hated it. Wes Anderson is certainly not to everyone’s tastes. Of his previous films, I loved the animated Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009), and I appreciated the quirk of Moonrise Kingdom (2012) without really loving it. I can’t even remember The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) other than that I found it boring, and I decided to forgo The Life Aqautic with Steve Zissou (2004) and The Darjeeling Limited (2007) as they did not look like my thing at all. Your feelings towards these films should inform you of whether The Grand Budapest Hotel will be worth your time. If you’ve never seen any of them, check out the trailer and see if it appeals.
The best thing about Anderson’s films are the aesthetics. He uses rich, bold colours and regularly uses symmetry when framing a shot. His films are beautiful to look at for these reasons. Unlike in his previous films (Moonrise Kingdom excepted), part of the action takes place outdoors, though it still retains an insular feel (though not in a negative way). Anderson’s films all have a quirky edge, which extends to the visuals, the music (with a score here by the masterful Alexandre Desplat), the dialogue, and the acting. Ralph Fiennes is fantastic in Grand Budapest – I’d forgotten he can actually be funny and not just a stuck-up, serious Brit/ Voldemort. The word ‘slapstick’ comes to mind when considering his role here, although it is perhaps a little more guarded than the term suggests. M. Gustave H is the legendary concierge of The Grand Budapest Hotel, and the film follows his escapades with lobby boy, Zero (Tony Revolori), which involve him being accused of murder, stealing a priceless painting, and breaking out of jail. Gustave H is certainly an interesting character who is never completely revealed to us. We get very little in the way of back story and his sexuality remains somewhat hazy. Seventeen year old Tony Revolori puts in a sweet performance as Zero, though it was odd that he looked nothing like Zero’s older self, played by F. Murray Abraham. Maybe that was Wes Anderson playing around with colour?
The usual cast members have been assembled again, which include Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Jude Law, Edward Norton, Saoirse Ronan, Jason Schwartzman, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Murray and Owen Wilson (ever so briefly). Apparently there is even a George Clooney cameo if you pay close enough attention (I missed it). Clearly Anderson is a well-respected director, given that these highly established actors return again and again to his films, in mostly minor roles. All do a great job but none of them are ever required to play against type, with the exception of Ralph.
Some fans have said that they found this film very touching, even tear-inducing. I don’t quite know what they’re on about and I generally don’t find Anderson’s films touching at all. Rather, there’s an emotional distance to them, possibly due to their absurd, other-worldly nature. The Grand Budapest Hotel certainly offers something different in this day and age of cinema and is to be commended for that. Don’t let anyone tell you that it’s a masterpiece that you simply MUST watch, because it’s highly subjective. And don’t let anyone (i.e. my Dad) tell you that it’s a waste of time, because ditto. Personally, I partly loved it (the quirk, the look, Ralph) but was not 100% engaged. Consider whether you’ve enjoyed Wes Anderson’s films in the past, and if in doubt watch the trailer. It perfectly demonstrates what lies ahead. Enjoy, or don’t.