There are few filmmakers who have created such a filmography as Wes Anderson. All of his films have been, at the very least, watchable; even his less successful entries aren’t “bad.” You could go through every single one of his feature films — which is to say nothing about the shorts — and find them all worth your time. You will also notice a unique style, from the acts depicted on the screen and what they mean to exactly how they’re being presented. You watch a “Wes Anderson film” and you know what you’re going to be getting out of it.
It’s surprising, then, that even though you know what to expect and likely have high expectations, that a film like The Grand Budapest Hotel can exceed what you hope to get out of the film. It is just as much a “Wes Anderson film” as the rest of them — and perhaps even more so than his previous entries — but it still manages to be a sweet, incredibly funny, and extremely entertaining movie. As long as you don’t completely hate what a “Wes Anderson film” has come to represent, it is well worth your time to watch The Grand Budapest Hotel.
The framework of the plot is a bit confusing to start off, going through several periods of time until we eventually reach the main segment of story, which involves a hotel concierge and his bell boy in an adventure of a lifetime. The concierge, M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), is the best concierge ever, apparently, and is particularly liked by a rich, elderly, guest, Madame D (Tilda Swinton, unrecognizable). She gets a scene or two before dying. M. Gustave and his bell boy, Zero (Tony Revolori), are called to hear the reading of the will.
It turns out that M. Gustave has been bequeathed a priceless painting, which the family — led primarily by Dmitiri (Adrien Brody) — wanted. Thus begins a life-and-death adventure involving a minor prison detour, a ski race, multiple murders, and, eventually, learning exactly how the titular Grand Budapest wound up belonging to a lowly bellboy, Zero. Zero, you see, is narrating the film, with the framing being that several decades later he is sitting down to have dinner with a writer (Jude Law) and telling this tale.
There’s an even further timeline, but it’s rather short and revealing it here would do nothing for you. I mention it only to bring up this point: Wes Anderson has done something very intelligent here. The way you get to know which timeline you’re in is by checking the aspect ratio. The oldest, and most prominently featured storyline, takes place in the Academy ratio — “fullscreen,” if you will. Yes, more than half the film would fit almost perfectly on an old tube TV. The other two timelines are more widescreen varieties, although I struggle to remember which one was 1.85:1 and which was 2.35:1. Ultimately irrelevant.
The Grand Budapest Hotel is breezy, whimsical, and a whole lot of fun. It’s hilarious, takes us to many different locations, keeps your mind engaged, and doesn’t take a moment off. And even if the overall plot somehow manages to bore you, you’ll be able to play a fun game called “Spot the Cameo.”
I’m not sure how he does it, but Wes Anderson somehow manages to get everyone to participate in his films. That’s an exaggeration, sure, but just listen to some of these names, some of whom are only in the film for a single scene. F. Murray Abraham, Mathieu Amalric, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Bill Muray, Edward Norton, Saoirse Ronan, Léa Seydoux, Jason Schwartzman, Tom Wilkinson, Owen Wilson — and I’ve already mentioned Fiennes, Brody, Law, and Swinton. I swear I saw George Clooney in a blink-or-miss-it spot, too, but perhaps it was just someone who looked like him.
Now, there’s only one problem with this, and it’s that the actors themselves sometimes wind up drawing attention to themselves. It becomes an issue because of the way Anderson frames most of his shots. He often aims to make them symmetrical, and that often places the main actor of the shot in the center of the frame. When first introducing a character, that means he or she will be front and center, which sometimes gives off the appearance of “Hey, look at me!” or “Hey, look at which big-name actor I roped into a relatively minor role!” It’s distracting.
If The Grand Budapest Hotel is anyone’s show other than Anderson’s, it’s Ralph Fiennes’. Fiennes is fantastic in this role, finding perfect balances between intimidating and impeccably nice, as well as serious and goofy. His sidekick, Tony Revolori, is (intentionally) awkward and shy, and would receive even more acclaim had Fiennes not dominated in the performance department.
The Grand Budapest Hotel is Wes Anderson’s eighth feature film and it’s one of his best. It’s wonderfully entertaining. From its great sense of humor to its breezy plot and whimsical characters, there isn’t a dull moment to be found. It is a “Wes Anderson film” from start to finish, and if you haven’t liked his other entries — and in particular, The Royal Tenenbaums, as that’s the one it feels closest to — then this is no different. I had a wonderful time with The Grand Budapest Hotel.