The Grand Budapest Hotel – A Review

Budapest Hotel

One of the trademarks of a great director is that they have a particular point of view and typically some signature trademarks. Martin Scorsese isn’t the only director to do a long tracking shot, but he is the man that has perfected it. A film with an over the top theatrical look and a mash-up of time periods is likely to be a Baz Luhrmann production. Tim Burton movies are instantly recognizable – not only does he work with the same actors repeatedly, but there are frequently macabre themes and a particular color palate. Tarantino movies have their own distinctive pattern of dialogue and musical choices. A Woody Allen film has its own telltale signs.

Wes Anderson is no different; his films all share his very unique perspective. His films are quirky and filled with playful shots and his costumes and set designs tend to embrace a slightly vintage feel. He certainly doesn’t go out of his way to make any of his actors or actresses look particularly attractive; if anything, he tends to frump them up to obscure their natural good looks. His movies feel more like stage plays than most movies and he has created his own certain brand of stylized nostalgia. The same actors and actresses tend to pop up in his films, further giving the impression that he is the leader of a merry band of actors that are simply putting on a show. You know instantly if you are watching a Wes Anderson film; even if I had gone into The Grand Budapest Hotel without knowing anything about it, it would have been instantly recognizable as one of his films. The whimsy is unmistakable.

Anderson has his own artistic vision that works for me sporadically; while I respect what he’s trying to do, I have a checkered history with my enjoyment of his films. I generally enjoyed The Royal Tenenbaums and Rushmore when I saw them, but I absolutely hated The Darjeeling Limited. Overall, I find his perspective too twee and precious for my personal aesthetic; his films feels a bit like they are trying too hard and the            quirk factor is turned up a just a bit too high. That’s not Anderson’s problem, obviously – I appreciate that he is good at what he does and stays true to his ideal; it’s simply a case of my preferences and his vision not being totally simpatico. I keep watching his films because they are always interesting and he’s an important modern director. Hope springs eternal that I’ll come around on his movies and finally learn to love them.

The Grand Budapest Hotel didn’t make me a Wes Anderson convert, but it did fall in the enjoyable column for me. It is a fun and silly movie that has a great cast and an amusing story, but it is ultimately something of a trifle. The Grand Budapest Hotel is a good time while it lasts, yet it didn’t make a lasting impression.

The Grand Budapest Hotel once again reunites many of Anderson’s favorite actors (Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, Edward Norton and Bill Murray all pop up), but the real stars are Anderson newcomers Ralph Fiennes and Tony Revolori (the latter of which is a real newcomer – this film is his only credit on his IMBD page). Fiennes plays M. Gustave, the concierge of the hotel who has a habit of romancing the rich older women in residence. Revolori is Zero the Lobby Boy, who is taken under Gustave’s wing. When one of Gustave’s octogenarian paramours is murdered, Gustave is suspect number one and a series of screwball antics unfolds.

Ralph Fiennes is not the first person that you think of when you think of comedies; his resume is littered with serious dramas, but is light on anything heavy on the jokes. He completely rises to the challenge, however, and he is tremendously delightful in The Grand Budapest Hotel. He blends in seamlessly with the more frequent Anderson players and commits fully to the lunacy that is M. Gistave. When Fiennes is on screen, the film simply crackles and he has great chemistry with Tony Revolori. I’ve never seen Fiennes have this much fun and I admit that I had forgotten how great Fiennes is in general.

Tony Revolori also fits in well in Anderson’s universe, though I’ll be interested to see what he is capable of in future film roles. He is a nice sidekick for Fiennes and seems right at home among the odd characters that inhabit the film. There are worst ways to make your feature film debut than in a Wes Anderson movie.

I was never quite sure where the story was going to go next, which is to its credit, but it ultimately didn’t hold my full attention. I appreciated the twists and turns, but I did find my mind wandering as the events on the big screen unfolded. I am generally not a fan of screwball comedies with ridiculous hijinks, which this film was in spades, which may have been a major factor to my distraction. The film just moved a little slow for me, though a lot of ground was covered. It is something of a weird dichotomy where I was curious how this was all going to resolve itself, yet subconsciously was doing the math to figure out when this all would be over. I liked the story, but I was never lost in it.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is a visually stimulating movie; much has been made over the years of Anderson’s fastidious attention to detail, but there is no doubt that his films looks exactly as he imagine. The Grand Budapest Hotel at times feels like a giant picture book that has come to life; if you liked the look of Moonrise Kingdom, you will appreciate the look of this film as well. Stylistically, they are very similar.

I really wish that I got more out of Wes Anderson movies, but I think I just have to file them under “not for me.” I think that he’s a talented director, but we’re simply out of sync stylistically. I recognize that I am in the minority on this – The Grand Budapest Hotel is currently hovering at 91% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. I didn’t dislike The Grand Budapest Hotel, but I didn’t love it either. It was a perfectly fine way to spend a Sunday afternoon, but once I finish writing this review I doubt I’ll give the film much thought again. If you dig Wes Anderson movies, I won’t be surprised if you think The Grand Budapest Hotel is one of his better films. I’m sure that it isn’t keeping anyone up nights that I don’t totally get these movies; I would like nothing better than to part of this fan club. But for whatever reason, it just doesn’t seem destined to happen. Wherever you fall on the Anderson spectrum, I don’t think that The Grand Budapest Hotel is a waste of time, though I think its impact and your overall enjoyment will be directly proportional to your relationship with the director.