I’ve been putting off writing about this film because I was afraid I wasn’t going to be able to do it justice. I’m still afraid of that, but I figured I better just jump in and run with it or I’ll procrastinate forever.
First off, if you’ve seen pretty much any of Wes Anderson’s films, The Grand Budapest Hotel (TGBH) will look familiar. Not that the setting is the same or all the actors are the same (though there are a few you’ll recognize from his previous works), but the main setting, The Grand Budapest Hotel itself, is very unique, very colorful, and has an air of whimsy and unreality to it. Anderson tends to combine a sort of animation/graphic element to his settings, especially when first introducing them and showing them as a whole rather than one piece at a time (recall the floor-by-floor map of the submarine from The Life Aquatic, for example), and this movie is no exception.
Also, the costumes and make-up are very precise, illustrating a character’s personality as much as their appearance, and may I say, Willem Dafoe and Jeff Goldblum were dressed and made up almost too perfectly for words.
Speaking of Dafoe and Goldblum, the performances were perhaps some of the best I’ve ever seen Anderson draw out from his actors. Ralph Fiennes and newcomer Tony Revolori are wonderful. They not only make a great comedic pair, but their adventures in the film tiptoe so close to the edge of believability that it makes it that much more fun, wondering how and if things will end happily or not.
While Fiennes and Revolori are the main characters in the film, we get a Who’s Who of former Wes Anderson movie alums as well as a few new faces of consider Hollywood caliber: Adrian Brody returns to play Dmitri, the son of one of M. Gustave’s (Fiennes) mistresses, Madame D., and Dafoe plays Jopling, Dmitri’s brother/PI/mercenary, and Goldblum appears as Deputy Kovacs, the executor of the mistress’s estate.
Other familiar Anderson movie alums also show up throughout the film, some with less facetime, but just as much idiosyncratic behavior and classic Anderson style, including Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, and Owen Wilson, who all appear as hotel managers/concierges, and Edward Norton who plays Henckels, a man whom M. Gustave befriended when he was a child staying at the hotel with his parents, and even Waris Ahluwalia pops up for a moment. Also on the roster are Harvey Keitel, an inmate at the prison from which M. Gustave makes his escape; Saoirse Ronan (The Lovely Bones) who plays Zero’s (Revolori) capable and honorable fiancee Agatha; Tilda Swinton, with some serious make-up, plays the mistress, Madame D., whose estate is in question throughout the film; Jude Law, who plays the young writer who speaks to Mr. Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham) about the hotel and learns about M. Gustave and Zero’s story; and Tom Wilkinson who plays the older version of Jude Law years after the story has been published.
With that many awesome actors and a director as creative as Anderson, it’s hard to describe just how well they all worked together and played off one another. The comedy, as in true Anderson style, was very deadpan and matter-of-fact, created through use of unexpected reactions to unusual circumstances and the ever-present idiosyncrasies of the characters. There was a bit of repetition to absurdity used as a comedic tool, but it felt sort of like the Chicken vs. Peter Griffin fight on Family Guy, funny the first time or two, but after a while, it just gets tired. Aside from one or two scenes that used that as a means of humor, the comedy was completely spot on. If you’re familiar and appreciative of Anderson’s unique brand of humor, that is.
I know that next year’s awards are a long ways off, and apparently there’s some sort of superstition surrounding films released in March being nominated for the next year’s award season, but I have a hard time imagining a world in which Ralph Fiennes is not nominated for this film. He’s a major actor and has done a lot of serious work over the years, but this, I must say, is my favorite of all his roles. He’s commanding and efficient and yet earnest and genuine as M. Gustave. He plays a very good villain (In Bruges, Red Dragon, Harry Potter films), but it’s always fun to watch actors step into a role they don’t always get to play and totally crush it.
This is to say nothing of Revolori, who fit into the character of Zero and Anderson’s unique story and filmmaking style like he’s been there all along. Though it seems like the story is more about M. Gustave and how he managed to secure the painting that Madame left him in her will, the story would not have been nearly so interesting without Zero’s part in it and how he helped M. Gustave escape and get the best of Madame’s greedy heirs. Even going head to head with such a talented actor as Fiennes, Revolori carries himself with the savoir faire of one much more seasoned in the business. With any luck and if there is any justice in the world, this young man will be making movies for years to come.
I still, and probably always will, have a soft spot for The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou because 1) Bill fucking Murray, 2) it’s the first Wes Anderson film I ever saw, 3) it’s the first role Willem Dafoe played that I actually liked him in – he’s just adorable as Klaus, and 4) you gotta love the David Bowie music, but personal sentiments aside, TGBH is one of Anderson’s best films. The Grand Budapest Hotel is magical, succeeding in transporting you across the decades and telling a story that is at once unique, comic, and heartbreaking.
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