I’m starting to think that The Fantastic Mr. Fox might be more of a key film in director Wes Anderson’s oeuvre than people give it credit for. Not only because I suspect that that film would probably be even better on a second viewing than the one time I saw it, but also because that was the film were Anderson literally got to play with figurines in his own dollhouse of a movie, and thus allowed him to indulge his most meticulous tendencies. Also, I think that film finally liberated Wes Anderson to tell a different kind of story than the upperclass mopefests that he kind of got into a rut of repeatedly making. Which brings us to The Grand Budapest Hotel, whose story is pretty different from anything we’ve seen from the venerable director before, while also retaining that fastidious dollhouse feel.
The Grand Budapest Hotel is told in flashback by Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham), a former lobbyboy and now owner of the titular hotel, who recounts the travails of his former boss, Gustav H (Ralph Fiennes). Gustav is framed for the murder of one of the many elderly women he spends his time courting, and finds himself on the run with a younger Zero (Tony Revolori) after stealing one of the woman’s prized paintings. This devolves into a series of chases, betrayals, and mad-cap sequences that only deepens the friendship between Zero and Gustav.
This is easily the most plot-driven movie of Wes Anderson’s career, as even the structure of the film is an initially dizzying flashback within a flashback within a flashback. And then from there we’re drawn into a kind of murder mystery that keeps unwinding itself, although I’d say the film is less interested in treating this story as an edge-of-your-seat thriller than an all out farce. I really appreciated this more complexly plotted approach from Anderson, since I’ve found some of his films to feel a bit meandering despite how precise they feel in every other department.
Of course the one thing you can always count on in an Anderson film is for it to look great, and The Grand Budapest is no exception. This film truly feels like it was finely crafted by human hands, like every brightly colored set decoration or character’s distinct physical trait has been perfectly calibrated to fit the film’s effervescent tone. The film also has a lot fun with it’s 1930’s European setting, as there’s no end to the amount of archaic nicknack’s that play a crucial part in the film. Also, the film has such an intentionally artificial feel to it, that this might be the only time that the use of model miniatures in a modern live-action film didn’t feel even a little bit jarring.
I guess what I forgot to mention in the synopsis is that there are a lot of characters, and pretty much all of them are played by familiar faces. Basically everyone gives really adept and fun performances, which isn’t surprising considering most of these actors have been in Wes Anderson movies before and more-or-less know the score. Unsurprisingly, the stand-out performance comes from the one guy who’s never appeared in an Anderson movie before, Ralph Feinnes — who embodies the word “rapscallion” with his equally charming and sleazy turn as Gustav.
I suppose you could say that this might be the least emotionally satisfying of Wes Anderson’s films, especially coming after the deftly heartfelt Moonrise Kingdom. But for me, there’s often a detached quality to Anderson’s treatment of his characters that can sometimes keep me from getting truly invested in them. The Grand Budapest Hotel however, left me with a big stupid grin on my face throughout. And since I’m gonna guess this is the effect the movie was going for, I have a really hard time faulting it.