Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Grand Budapest Hotel: Or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Lobby Boy

Wes Anderson has always had a way of telling a story in the same visceral way, with the same voice inflections, the same monotonic deadpan delivery, and still be able to make completely different movies.  The characters from any of his films could all be from the same universe as one another, related by blood even, and this wouldn't be a stretch.  They all have the same mannerisms and way of speaking.  They all have the knack of getting themselves into self-destructive situations that merit nothing short of a grandiose gesture to whomever has been wronged in order to find inner peace.  And yet, they are all very distinguishable characters in very distinguishable films.  Moonrise Kingdom isn't The Darjeeling Limited isn't Life Aquatic isn't Royal Tenenbaums.  Yet, pop any one of these films on and you'll notice the roll/tracking shots that permeate throughout the films.  You'll notice the theme of a central, quirky color pattern.  You'll notice the rapid pace each character talks to one another, seemingly without blinking or expressing any emotion.  Yet, you'll fall in love with each film and the characters that occupy them.

This time, Anderson has gone with a story of the past told by numerous versions of one author through certain points in time.  Tom Wilkinson tells us his tale as the oldest version of himself.  A younger version of the same author, Jude Law, learns the story from the owner of the hotel, F. Murray Abraham, who experiences the story as a young lobby boy working for the concierge (Ralph Fiennes) at the Grand Budapest Hotel.  Fiennes plays Gustave, a respected concierge who favors the elderly women at his hotel, yet still provides the perfect service to any guest who happens to frequent the hotel.  Most travelers, in fact, stay at the hotel due to Gustave himself.  Zero (newcomer Tony Revolori) is the hotel's newest Lobby Boy, or protégée to Gustave.  Gustave takes Zero under his wing and teaches him about running the finest hotel in the world.  During this time, one of Gustave's frequent elderly "visitors" (Tilda Swinton) is mysteriously murdered.  The morning before her death she signed a brand new will leaving a priceless painting "Boy With Apple" to Gustave.  This incites anger in her son (Adrien Brody) and his ruthlessly violent henchman (Willem Dafoe) who set out to frame Gustave for her murder.

It's a comedic caper somewhat reminiscent of older Peter Sellers comedies.  Now, granted, Sellers would have to color-up his films, jerk himself off to post-modern arthouse comedies, and become an incredibly self-aware film hipster... but it's still close.  Anderson has established himself enough as a competent director that he's able to mess with his own unique film conventions.  He's able to take the crime caper and the whodunit and turn it into something smart, quirky, dark and fun, while never really forsaking the Wes Anderson-isms that have become the staple of the director.

The Grand Budapest Hotel, like most of Anderson's films, is one that will require multiple viewings in order to catch every laugh and nuance.  Ralph Fiennes is fantastic as the extremely dry and British Gustave.  But, it's Zero who truly steals the show.  He's a great kid who fits perfectly in the purple and pink pastel world Anderson has created.  He's able to elicit a laugh without even moving a facial muscle.  Much like Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, and Bill Murray before him I hope he becomes a repeat player of future Anderson films.  Past favorites make appearances as well.  It's like Anderson has found niche roles for Willem Dafoe to play in which only he can execute perfectly.  And anyone who can bring Jeff Goldblum out for any cinematic appearance already has my support.

The film itself is quite quirky, and very fun.  It's a goofy movie for smart people.  I'm hesitant to recommend it to everyone because it's very Wes Anderson-y and if you're not privy to his previous work and style, then I'm not sure it can be fully appreciated.  However, I also believe that most people should have the minimal brain capacity it takes in order to appreciate a great film, so I guess I'll go out on a limb and say that everyone should make a little effort to see the film.  More than once.  I, personally, can't wait to see it again.  If not for the acting, the laughs, the wit, or the starpower... it's probably the most aesthetically pleasing movie you'll see all year.