When I watched this, I had no intention of reviewing it. I tend to really, strongly dislike Wes Anderson movies. I honestly can’t stand his style–aesthetically and performance-wise. Many are considering The Grand Budapest Hotel as not only one of the best films of the year already, but also quite possibly Anderson’s masterpiece (at least thus far). So I had to check it out. And the reason, dear readers, that I just had to review this, is because it is by far the most Wes Anderson of Wes Anderson films, and I need to figure out the reason why, despite that, I came out kind of loving this movie.
The film starts off about as pretentious as you can get to tell as story–a girl sits on a snowy bench to read a journal. We flash into the past to see the person writing the journal, an older Author (Tom Wilkinson). He narrates for a moment as we flash back in time where his younger self (Jude Law) takes over narration, doing so as if he’s just reading from a book. He meets up with the current owner of the Grand Budapest Hotel, Mr. Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham), who tells the young writer how he came to own the place. We flash back yet again as our screen shrinks to a full screen (as opposed to wide screen) aspect ratio to focus on a boy named Zero (Tony Revolori), a young Lobby Boy in training. He’s quickly taken under the wing of the concierge of the hotel, M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), a man with good taste and a love of old rich women. But after the death of one of his most beloved patrons (an aged Tilda Swinton), Gustave and Zero travel to her estate for her will reading, where Gustave is left a valuable painting. Her gothic, thuggish children, however, led by Dmitri (Adrien Brody) and Jopling (Willem Dafoe), are infuriated by this and frame Gustave for their mother’s murder. The film also features appearances by Edward Norton, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Bill Murray, Saoirse Ronan, Jason Schwartzman, Lea Seydoux, and Owen Wilson.
The first 10 minutes of the movie (everything building up to the actual Ralph Fiennes story) had me worried. It was awfully pretentious, and the voice-over narration was kind of annoying. But almost immediately after meeting Ralph Fiennes’ character, I started to warm up to the movie. And he really is a major part of why I liked this movie as much as I did. His performance here is not your typical Anderson straight-faced monotone (similar reason why I liked Ed Norton in Moonrise Kingdom). Every single second Fiennes was on screen was wonderful. But there were other characters, such as Adrien Brody’s and Willem Dafoe’s, that worked incredibly well, too.
However, there’s still the matter of the Anderson style, which I have a hard time getting over. Performance wise, the only two characters that gave the typical Anderson lack-of-emotion style I typically hate were Zero and Agatha (Saoirse Ronan). Who, of course, were my least favorite characters in the movie because of that (though Zero gets a little credit since he gets to work off of Ralph Fiennes the entire film, which pulls him up a few notches). As for everything else? As the movie was nearing its end, a sudden strange thought passed through my head: “Why does it feel like I’m watching an Edgar Wright movie?” And after the film ended, it hit me. This movie feels like a parody of Wes Anderson. It’s so entirely Wes Anderson that it collapses on itself and becomes nearly a mockery of its own style. But it remains energetic and charming so that it’s more like Edgar Wright made an homage/parody of a Wes Anderson movie.
Because of this, the film is really funny. There are a number of fun running jokes throughout the film, such as characters never being able to finish reciting a poem without being cut off. The film ends up becoming a wacky crime caper with everything being so overly complicated that its ridiculousness becomes hilarious. The characters and their actors’ performances are delightful and charming, giving the film a breath of life and energy that I often find missing in Wes Anderson films.
I know it’s a strange observation to say this feels more like an Edgar Wright homage than a Wes Anderson movie, considering it’s one of the most Wes Anderson-looking movies out there. But perhaps that is exactly the reason I liked it. It was just too absurd yet simultaneously fun to be annoyed at. And, yes, a lot of it also has to do with the performances, primarily Ralph Fiennes, who truly does shine in this movie. I absolutely loved his performance here, and he’d be the primary reason I’d come back to it some day. That is to say, in fact, this might be the first time I’d want to revisit a Wes Anderson movie. I quite liked it. (This rating is even going to be a round-down since we don’t do half-scores, because for as much as I liked it, I couldn’t give it the full 5.)