I saw The Grand Budapest Hotel in the beginning of last year, and never got around to writing a review. After seeing all the well deserved love it has been getting from other viewers and recognition from awards panels, and because it’s one of my favorite movies from 2014, I feel compelled now to join in and share why I think Wes Anderson’s latest work is one of the most delightful films I’ve seen in the past year.
Wes Anderson’s unique style is really an acquired taste, he’s one of those directors people like to credit as pandering to the “hipster” crowd, making films some people consider to be pretentious and silly. To me, it’s refreshing to see directors take on their own unique styles, it allows them to stand out from the rest. Directors like Scorsese, Tarantino, Nolan, Malick, all have their own styles in filmmaking. When you see films they’ve directed, you know it couldn’t have been made the same by anyone else, and that’s what I think when I see a Wes Anderson film. I don’t see his work as pretentious, but imaginative and different. If he tends to appeal mostly to the “hipster” crowd, well then, so be it.
The Grand Budapest Hotel is not only visually appealing with its stylish and colorful costumes and set designs, but it also has a story full of wonder and good humor, and characters who manage to shine even with the small roles some of them have been given. The story is actually a story within a story within a story. It begins with a girl visiting a monument to an author and begins reading his memoir, then we see that author (Tom Wilkinson) narrating his story from his desk telling of a trip he took to the Grand Budapest Hotel in fictional Republic of Zubrowka in 1968. There, we see the author (Jude Law) in his youth while he encounters the hotels owner, Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham), who agrees to tell him the story of how the hotel came to be in his possession. We are then taken back to 1932 when the young Zero (Tony Revolori) was a lobby boy who was taken under the wing of the concierge, M. Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes), and learns of a predicament the two find themselves in following the death of a certain guest of the hotel to whom Gustave was close to. Long story short, there is murder, sled chases, a coveted painting named “Boy with Apple,” and a prison break, among other things involved in this interesting, sometimes wacky story.
It is a delight to watch Ralph Fiennes as Gustave H. There’s certain quirks and a strange feminine air to the character that makes him so hilarious, and Fiennes plays it so well. He’s known for going to bed with old, rich blonde women at the hotel, he is always well perfumed with a scent that lingers long after he leaves a room, and among his few possessions is a library of romantic poetry. After the death of Madam D. (Tilda Swinton), he is willed with another possession, a silly painting called “Boy with Apple,” which leads to Gustave and Zero’s adventures outside the hotel. Tony Revolori is a fresh new face among Anderson’s regulars, a great pairing to Fiennes eccentric, lovable character.
Some of the other faces among this star studded cast belong to Bill Murray, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Saoirse Ronan, Edward Norton, Owen Wilson, Harvey Keitel and Jason Schwartzman. Some of them are no more than short cameos, but still memorable in their own way. Brody has a substantial role as Dmitri, Madam D.’s son who frames Gustave for murder, as well as Dafoe as Jopling, his leather-wearing, motorcycle-riding henchman. Ronan is likable as Agatha, Zero’s love interest, and Goldblum is the unfortunate executor of Madame’s will.
Anderson created this whole fictional, parallel world of Zubrowka, which looks like it could be a real place located in Eastern Europe, complete with a named capital, mountain peaks and fictional diseases. Imagine Eastern Europe on the verge of World War II, and that’s basically where this film takes place, and the soldiers which are led by Norton’s character resemble Nazis without the swastikas. The story is somewhat tragic in a way that it takes place during a time period like this, when things of luxury will soon vanish, and the world will know only destruction and war. The hotel will not be teeming with guests, or quite as colorful as it once was, as we can see by the time Jude Law’s character, the young author, visits. It’s already become a military post towards the end of older Zero’s tale. Gustave is like the light in the dark, though. He’s a troubled, but hopeful character, always wanting to maintain the illusion of a world where humanity hasn’t become completely barbaric, and Zero follows in those footsteps, making them both such an endearing mentor/student pair.
The Grand Budapest Hotel has plenty going for it. It’s a murder mystery, an adventure story, a love story, a tale of friendship and loss, and a comedy, as well as a visual treat, and it expertly balances all of these elements without ever seeming too chaotic or silly.
Wes Anderson created yet another fantastically colorful world with a great story and a lot of memorable, likable characters and taking a ride through his imagination is an invigorating experience. For those wanting to catch up with the Oscar nominees they’ve missed over the past year, The Grand Budapest Hotel is worthy of watching first. It’s also near the top of my list of films from 2014 that I would consider a must-see.