Directed by: Wes Anderson
Premise: The concierge of a famous European hotel (Ralph Fiennes) takes a lobby boy (Tony Revolori) under his wing. When a wealthy woman leaves her estate to the concierge, he and his protégé are forced to go on the run and are pursued by her greedy family members.
What Works: The Grand Budapest Hotel is the latest feature from filmmaker Wes Anderson. His pictures often have an innocent quality about them but this film is a bit more mature than some of his other work. The Grand Budapest Hotel is an interesting contrast to his previous feature, Moonrise Kingdom, which was a story centered on children and it had a light and whimsical tone. Although The Grand Budapest Hotel also focuses on a relationship between a boy and a father figure, this film is much more adult oriented and the subtext of it is often much heavier. In that respect this picture is much closer to works like The Royal Tenenbaums than it is to Fantastic Mr. Fox. The appeal of Anderson’s work is found in his kooky characters, offbeat tone, and flamboyant filmmaking style and all of those elements are on display in The Grand Budapest Hotel. The picture is led by strong central performances by Ralph Fiennes and Tony Revolori as the hotel concierge and his protégé. Fiennes and Revolori are great together onscreen and they have a credible mentor-mentee relationship. The film also has a strong supporting performance by Saoirse Ronan as the love interest of Revolori’s character. Ronan is a terrific actress and she carries herself well; the part is not a doting female role and Ronan makes her more than just a girlfriend. Anderson does this kind of young love storyline well and the way their relationship both compares and contrasts with the romances of Fiennes’s character makes an interesting distinction between the older man and his apprentice. The Grand Budapest Hotel also displays the offbeat tone and flamboyant style that have characterized Wes Anderson’s films but in this movie those qualities are done in the extreme. The story is more complicated than Anderson’s other pictures and that allows him latitude with the cinematography and production design and this is the most unapologetically stylized installment of Anderson’s filmography so far.
What Doesn’t: Wes Anderson is a filmmaker with a distinct style and his work tends to elicit strong reactions from the audience one way or the other. His films are not really an acquired taste; viewers usually love his work or despise it and those who don’t like Anderson’s pictures will probably never come around to enjoying them. The Grand Budapest Hotel features all of Wes Anderson’s idiosyncrasies and turns them up to eleven so viewers who have been cool to his earlier work are not going to find this film accessible at all. Even viewers who are more passive fans of Anderson might find The Grand Budapest Hotel a little too eccentric and this film showcases Anderson’s strengths but also his weaknesses. The plot is erratic and the narrative uses a multiple frame narrative structure that is unnecessary, especially in its outmost casing. Anderson has also struggled in some of his films to create characters of depth. Quite frequently his characters are exactly who they appear to be and that is the case in The Grand Budapest Hotel. There is little gradation or ambiguity and many of the characters are one-note. At this point in his career Anderson has attracted an impressive roster of actors who are willing to appear in his movies, even in bit parts, such as Bill Murray, Jude Law, Jason Schwartzman, and Edward Norton. The appearance of so many A-list stars in walk-on roles is frequently distracting and a lot of the supporting characters in this picture randomly enter and exit the story. As a result the film has a haphazard quality, one that is sometimes detrimental to the picture.
Bottom Line: The Grand Budapest Hotel comes off a bit self-indulgent on Wes Anderson’s part but the movie is a lot of fun and it is a bit more sophisticated than some of the director’s other work. Those who did not like his other films are certainly not going to like this one and viewers who were iffy about his work may be put off by the style, but those who appreciate Wes Anderson’s films will find a lot of delight in The Grand Budapest Hotel.
Episode: #488 (April 27, 2013)