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The Grand Budapest Hotel plays like a Wes Anderson greatest hits album. Particular Andersonian foibles plucked from his previous films pop up over the course of the film. Perhaps that is what makes The Grand Budapest Hotel Anderson’s most accessible film for casual moviegoers. However, The Grand Budapest Hotel is also Anderson’s most ambitious movie to date in that this movie clearly has only two main characters, and is another step forward in Anderson’s development from Moonrise Kingdom.
The Grand Budapest Hotel tells the story of the teenage Zero (newcomer Tony Revolori) and his mentor Monsieur Gustave (Ralph Fiennes, a first time Anderson cast mate). Gustave immediately takes Zero under his wing in hopes of training him to be the next, and last, great concierge of the Grand Budapest Hotel amidst the changing political world of the 1930s in a fictional European country. Yes, it is a bit of a mouthful but the story mainly focuses on Gustave and Zero’s relationship as they navigate through some very crazy circumstances all because of a fake painting Gustave was left in one of his former lovers’ wills.
Anderson almost has too much fun being himself in the beginning of the movie, introducing a frame within a frame within a frame structure (the aspect ratio of the movie screen changes as well) amidst some purposefully verbose and florid voice over monologues. The structure is a much better executed version of that found in The Royal Tenenbaums. Much of the first third establishes the very quirky Gustave and the hotel. Once the will is read and the plot begins, however, the movie really begins moving at a spritely clip, which allows much of the humor to build over the piling on of the ridiculous circumstances. At the end of the day Grand Budapest may be Anderson’s most cartoony of them all.
There are shots plucked straight from Fantastic Mr. Fox, especially during the ski chase scene. Moonrise Kingdom’s fingerprints are all over Zero and his subplot relationship with Agatha. Also included were combinations of animation within live action akin to The Life Acquatic with Steve Zissou, although not to the same extent. But with all of these Andersonian aspects it is the character of M. Gustave, the most realized character of any from his movies, is where the movie really shines.
Ralph Fiennes does an incredible job of portraying the world’s best concierge, even though he knows how small a role he plays in the world. Despite that realization Gustave knows what his job is and feels like even a modicum of old world manners and sensibilities go a long way. He sleeps with geriatric aristocrats, despite is very charming demeanor, because they provide the most prestige while still being in his general wheelhouse. Of course he is also very much of their dying world of manners and antiquated social structures and rules. In one seen after he has escaped some peril he meets Zero and immediately reprimands him for not bringing Gustave’s cologne while they are still supposed to be escaping, until he apologizes for his racial epithet once Zero tells him he is a refugee and not an immigrant. It’s a scene that typifies Gustave’s character that is brilliantly actualized by Fiennes.
The rest of the characters are almost purely one-dimensional archetypes outside of Zero from which the entire story is narrated. And many of these characters are not given much screen time. Adrien Brody and Willem Defoe play the bad guys trying to get the painting that Gustave was bequeathed by Brody’s mother. Neither have more than a handful of scenes. The same is said for Harvey Keitel, Bill Murray, Saorise Ronan, and Tilda Swinton. The Grand Budapest Hotel is different from any other Anderson movie in that regard as it is so heavily focused on Gustave and Zero – even Moonrise Kingdom, which revolved around the relationship between Sam and Suzy, had important subplots between the more supporting characters. In fact it is entirely possible that in an earlier Anderson film the section called “The Society of the Crossed Keys” would have been greatly expanded in favor of the main plot because of its endless possibilities – and if Anderson decided to make a movie based off this section I would certainly be first in line to see it.
In Grand Budapest Anderson tries to balance his time between hardcore fans while still making it accessible to new audiences. For the most part he succeeds but the movie seems more geared to new audiences than for the hardcore fans, which does not hinder the movie’s enjoyment at all. The Grand Budapest Hotel is a ridiculous and exciting romp that feels both very much from the mind of Wes Anderson but not at the same time. What remains to be seen is whether Grand Budapest marks a sort of concluding paragraph before launching into new stylistic and storytelling endeavors or if he will continue to fine tune those tried and true aspects that make his films so Wes Anderson.