Review By: Bill Graham
When you watch over 300 new films a year, you see trends and similarities all over cinema. The films and genres could be completely different, but you will find the same beats. This is why, inevitably, film auteurs are so lauded by the cinema press. There’s usually something original being played with. They are pushing the boundaries. Their films may feel similar to each other, but they stand apart from everyone else’s. That’s why when it comes to a director like Wes Anderson, you have to understand what it means for a film reviewer to remark how refreshing and unexpected his films tend to be. And THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL, his latest, is no exception. Whether you consider the glorious set pieces with painted backdrops, the peppy and entrancing score by Alexandre Desplat, the quirky nature of the characters involved, or the wonderful way that Anderson plays with tone and is able to walk the tight rope between whimsy and still have a character like Willem Dafoe’s feel incredibly menacing, there is a richness to all the fine details that help elevate the film beyond just the sum of its parts.
You could wander into nearly any portion of the film and if you’re at all familiar with Anderson’s work, you would recognize Grand Budapest as one of his own. That similarity helps keep things different and strange as he continues to defy his own guidelines and your expectations. The film follows the exploits of a young hotel lobby boy named Zero (Tony Revolori) that falls in with the concierge of the Grand Budapest Hotel during its heyday. That concierge, a Mr. Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes), has a reputation as a ladies man with a particular angle: older women, and especially blondes. When one of his lovers passes away suddenly, he inherits a very valuable painting much to the chagrin of the woman’s offspring and family members. That’s when the chase is on, with Gustave and Zero teaming up to keep ahead of the son Dmitri (Adrien Brody) and his accomplice, Jopling (Defoe).
Along the way we are introduced to a string of odd characters played by notable actors, including Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Tilda Swinton, Jeff Goldbloom, and Harvey Keitel. There is a wondrous color palate that flows throughout the film, and ever the jokester Anderson has a lot of absurdities occur just off-center but within the frame. Pay attention to the background characters and you’re sure to find something amusing going on. While a lot of Anderson films feel a bit without a tether, the chase film genre is one that is able to continue to be loose and still keep you involved. I was glued to the screen unlike few other Anderson films. This is assuredly one of his most accessible works, ranking up there with The Fantastic Mr. Fox. Fiennes shows remarkable poise and humor, playing a gentleman in a world that no longer respects that. But if we’re really breaking things down, it’s Revolori that is the star as the film revolves around him solving various mysteries or problems that continue to arise. With a penciled on mustache and a slow but intelligent mind, he is sometimes in above his head but manages to stay afloat.
The real change for me, though, is Joplin. He can be seen as an enforcer, and Anderson, working off a story by frequent collaborator Hugo Guinness, allows Joplin to cause considerable harm to those that get in his employer’s way. He’s a constant source of darkness in the film and gives the film danger and mystery. He’s the wild card and it’s wonderful to see. Most people understand that there is a certain style of charm to the works of Wes Anderson. The Grand Budapest Hotel not only provides that in spades, often leaving a smile on your face and especially in the way he revisits jokes or situations, but it also proves to be an involving film as well. Rarely, once the film gets going, is there a lull in the action and I never felt lost. Hilarious with a touch of menace, this is one of Anderson’s finest works to date and definitely not one to miss this spring.