Movie Review: The Grand Budapest Hotel

(l to r) 1st Lobby Boy, Tony Revolori, Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes in “The Grand Budapest Hotel”

Tied with Birdman for the most Oscar nominations (9), as well as the Golden Globe winner for Best Comedy, is The Grand Budapest Hotel deserving of all the accolades? Currently available on streaming and cable, we had to revisit:

By Kimberly Gadette (doddleNEWS)

In our all-too-brief stay at The Grand Budapest Hotel, writer/director Wes Anderson treats us to a toothsome tale that is unlike anything we’ve ever experienced before. Set in the fictional, Eastern European Republic of Zubrowka, Anderson cooks up an inimitable Hungarian goulash, blending 19th century European opulence with cartoon villainy, Harold Lloyd-ian slapstick, madcap prison scenes, pastries aplenty, romance, intrigue and nostalgia, all liberally infused with wit and style. Such would be the makings of a rather sweet, addled comedy … except for the fact that there’s something acrid in the air. Amid all the zaniness, Anderson reminds us that fascism and Hitler are en route, planning to swarm all over The Grand Budapest Hotel and Zubrowka itself … as well as other, actual European cities that will indeed be ground to ash.

So much for the screwball. Yet while we’re contending with the gravitas of jackboots, we still get a parade of extraordinary characters, settings, colors, costumes, music and above all, a story that keeps coming at us without taking a breath.

The Grand Budapest Hotel slaps us silly right at the start: We’re introduced to the bust of the renowned “Author” a.k.a. “National Treasure,” in which people pay their respects by hanging hotel keys on his statue. We then cut to the old scribe himself in 1985 (Tom Wilkinson), who speaks earnestly into the camera, holding forth on his theories of writing. But his grandchild interrupts the discourse, ruining the take – and the scene goes comically awry in the wink of a jaundiced eye. But not before he confirms that everything he wrote in his highly popular book, “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” is undeniably true.

(l to r): F. Murray Abraham as the elder Zero, Jude Law as the younger Author in “The Grand Budapest Hotel”

We zoom back to the 1960s, in which the younger version of the Author (Jude Law) has taken a room in a run-down Eastern European hotel. With its offensive carrot-orange walls and dilapidated spa, a few displaced stragglers wafting through, it’s hard to imagine that this cavernous eyesore could have ever been considered  “Grand.” But the mysterious old proprietor Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham) has a tale to tell, beginning in 1932, when he was initially hired to be the Lobby Boy/bellhop (Tony Revolori) under the tutelage of the resplendent hotel concierge, one Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes).

And so the film unfolds, with the frosted confection of a hotel beckoning from its aerie high atop an Alpine mountain. Anderson and Co. have created a fantastical vision: the Hotel’s ballerina pink and apricot color scheme, outrageous murals that defy imagination, staircases upon staircases, outdoor elevators amid the steep cliffs … and that’s just the Grand Budapest. Additionally, we are treated to a plethora of eye-filling mansions and hotels, along with the Dickensian flip side: grim backstreets, narrow cots in closet-sized rooms, nasty prison cells, etc. The sets were either built (i.e., the Grand’s interior) or created as miniature models (i.e., the Grand’s exterior).

Ralph Fiennes as M. Gustave in “The Grand Budapest Hotel”

Gustave is the centerpiece of The Grand Budapest Hotel’s story, running the Grand with a firm hand – a hand that’s sprayed with liberal doses of expensive perfume. A dandified peacock strutting about in a violet uniform, he frequently undercuts his eloquent speech with vulgar language. Leading us to wonder that since he, too, was once a Lobby Boy, is Gustave just a tad bit of a poser? Especially since he spends a great deal of downtime wooing the elderly ladies, perhaps hoping that one of them will generously remember him in their will. And, not so coincidentally, when one of them does (the unrecognizable Tilda Swinton as a concupiscent 84-year-old, her ruby red lipstick all but covering the lower half of her face), her unpleasant, ever-so-slightly murderous family intervenes.

The ensemble is a sheer delight, each player adding an individual spark to the whole. Many Anderson alums show up in a marvelous telephone relay scene in which Gustave reaches out to his underground network of concierge super heroes, secretly known as “The Society of the Crossed Keys.” The prison scenes introduce another wacky crew, led by Harvey Keitel as the shirtless gang leader. When he speaks, he engages his dancing pectoral muscles for emphasis. Now there’s a sight we probably won’t see again on the screen. Or anywhere else, if we’re lucky …

The camera is its own clever animal. On a few occasions, one character speaking directly to another will suddenly take his/her lines straight to the lens, as if we’re the other person in the scene (drawing us in even closer to the goings on). Addressing the different eras, Anderson and his longtime collaborator, cinematographer Robert Yeoman, chose multiple aspect ratios that reflected the look of the time: a square 1.37:1 format for the 1930s, anamorphic widescreen for the 1960s and a 1.85:1 format for the scenes that were closest to current-day.

The film finds the funny in a myriad of ways, often playing with size, e.g., a ladder that stretches on for untold feet, signage that’s inexplicably huge, and a door that looks like it was built for an ocean liner to pass through.

The most recent Wes Anderson films have been intricately laced together, all the ingredients blending just so. But nothing quite matches The Grand Budapest Hotel, a perfectly layered concoction wrapped up in an impeccable confectioner’s bow.

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Rating on a scale of 5 fruitless attempts to reserve a room at the Grand Budapest Hotel: 4.5

Written and Directed by: Wes Anderson
Story by: Wes Anderson & Hugo Guinness
Inspired by the writings of: Stefan Zweig
Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, F. Murray Abraham, Edward Norton, Mathieu Amalric, Saoirse Ronan, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Lea Seydoux, Jeff Goldblum, Jason Schwartzman, Jude Law, Tilda Swinton, Havey Keitel, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson
Running Time: 100 minutes
Rating: R

Here is the trailer:

About Kimberly Gadette

Film critic Kimberly Gadette, born and raised in movie-centric L.A., believes celluloid may very well be a part of her DNA. Having received her BA and MFA from UCLA's School of Theater, Film & Television, she spent many of her formative years as an actress (film, tv, commercials, stage) before she literally changed perspective, finding a whole new POV from the other side of the camera. You can find her last 500+ reviews on Rotten Tomatoes (www.rottentomatoes.com/critic/kimberly-gadette/). Other than taking the occasional side trip to Cannes or Sundance, you can find her at the movies ... sitting in the dark as usual.

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