Watching Wes Anderson films, one feels (in the best possible sense) that everyone involved in making them must’ve had a wonderful time. There is something infectious in Anderson’s playful whimsy, and even if The Grand Budapest Hotel, like many of his films, can’t quite circumvent the distancing effect of his quirky sensibility, it is nevertheless a thoroughly charming piece of work.
Anderson is one of a small number of directors with a distinct and immediately recognisable style – whatever the story, you immediately know it’s him, and that in itself is a pleasant feeling to have. Sitting down to watch Grand Budapest Hotel is like visiting with an old friend – one who hasn’t given up his habit of playing with dolls in magnificently appointed dollhouses of his own creation.
So we have the usual tropes – cameras swivelling through 90 degrees; lots of zooms in and out on small details; model work in place of special effects; that same distinct style of dialogue – all wrapped up in an intriguing story about a hotel concierge – M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) – and his attempt to clear his name following the murder of a wealthy old lady.
We begin in the present day and then flashback twice in quick succession to the early 1930s, where the heart of the story plays out. M. Gustave, concierge of the Grand Budapest Hotel, must go on an adventure with his new lobby boy (Tony Revolori) while avoiding the attentions of the members of the deceased’s family, including Dmitri (Adrien Brody) and a menacing knuckle duster-wearing creep played by Willem Dafoe. The heart of the film is in the interactions between newcomer Revolori and Fiennes, and they make an amusing central partnership. M. Gustave, in particular, is a wonderful creation – all camp asides and smooth politeness interspersed with Chaucerian outbursts of swearing. It’s a great role and Fiennes nails it
Another Anderson trope – the delicious supporting cast – is also very much in place. Harvey Keitel shows up for some prison-based fun, and Jeff Goldblum as a delightful attorney, while Ed Norton, who was so good in Moonrise Kingdom, gets a small role here. It was also nice to see Léa Seydoux again so soon after Blue is the Warmest Colour, even if her role here could hardly be more incidental.
Anderson’s films can often feel emotionally distant, and for me that feeling was present in The Grand Budapest Hotel too. 2012’s Moonrise Kingdom had more heart – at least for half of its runtime – but thankfully this latest effort is funny enough that the lack of real engagement doesn’t hurt it too much. The characters are such pleasant company that we long to know them a little better, but we must accept that they, like the meticulously crafted sets, are but small parts of a intricately pieced together whole – one which perhaps is more surface than depth.
But irrespective of that, it’s still a pleasure to spe nd time in Anderson’s oddball world. The Grand Budapest Hotel is funny and offbeat, zips along at a pleasing pace, and in M. Gustave has a truly memorable leading character.