Wes Anderson’s ‘Grand Budapest Hotel’ A Grand Time
Kevin Noonan | Monday, March 31, 2014
You had me at “Wes Anderson.”
One of last fall’s highlights on Saturday Night Live was a sketch featuring the fake trailer for “The Coterie of Midnight Intruders,” which parodied Anderson’s movies and their idiosyncratic and stylistically-unique nature. It featured a one-off joke quoting a fake New York Times review of the film, saying, “You had me at Wes Anderson.”
I hate to say it, but going into Anderson’s latest actual movie, “Grand Budapest Hotel,” I shared the mindset. It was a Wes Anderson movie, and therefore I would like it. I may like it less than other Wes Anderson movies, but I will still enjoy the film.
My bias aside though, it’s safe to say that this is one of Anderson’s most accessible, funniest and most spectacular films, with a story and style that reaches beyond the familiar Anderson quirks.
The quirks are there, no doubt — overhead shots; bright, crayon-y colors; symmetrical framing; precocious children; dysfunctional families; and, above all, a whimsical, deadpan sense of humor that doesn’t always make you laugh but can always be recognized as funny, either in the moment or in retrospect.
But “Grand Budapest Hotel” feels like, if not the least Andersonian of his films, then at least the most movie-like of his movies. The plot moves between decades, as an aging writer in the present recalls his time as a young writer in 1968 meeting an old man in a once-famous hotel, the Grand Budapest, recalling his time as a boy in the then-famous hotel in 1932.
Okay so yeah, the movie is pretty Wes Anderson-y. But the movie delves deep into its characters and plot, as the eccentric and anachronistically proper concierge of the hotel, Monsieur Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes, in one of the funniest roles of his career), becomes wrapped up in the murder investigation of one of the hotel’s best clients and a close confidant of his, a rich and equally eccentric old woman.
We follow the mystery through the eyes of the young Zero Moustafa, a young and precocious immigrant and lobby boy in the hotel, who adores Gustave and follows his every order, no matter how ridiculous.
The movie runs through a string of ludicrous and vibrant characters, from the overmatched executor of the old woman’s will played by Jeff Goldblum, her vulgar jerk of a son played by Adrien Brody, the understanding and rational German officer played by Edward Norton, the bruising enforcer played by Willem Dafoe, the conniving prisoner played by Harvey Keitel and, of course, appearances from Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman and Owen Wilson.
Despite all these famous faces and instantly memorable characters, though, the central conflict of the film rests in the efforts of Gustave and Zero to escape the forces chasing them down and hold onto a priceless painting they stole from the old woman’s estate. Well technically it was willed to Gustave, but it’s a whole thing in the movie.
During their time on the run, with Gustave constantly trying to get back to his beloved hotel and Zero trying to get back to the young girl he loves and has promised to marry (another precocious child, played by Saoirse Ronan), Anderson gives us insight into the intense loneliness and that accompanies Gustave and his lifestyle. Zero adores him, but we can see what total devotion to servitude, mixed with endless vanity, can lead to in life. Zero devotes himself to his new love, but we find out even that can’t promise endless joy.
The most powerful moment, for me, comes at the very end, as a rebuttal to a point made in the opening minutes of the movie. At the beginning of the movie, the writer recalls seeing the old man, who we find out later to be Zero, in the hotel, and though all the people in the hotel are alone, he is the first one to seem truly lonely. Anderson shows us at the end of the film though, that sometimes loneliness is the price to be paid for love and happiness, and mushy and sentimental as that may sound, heck, I liked it.