Whilst I am never a fan of the love-it-or-hate Marmite analogy that is often applied to distinctive filmmakers, there can be little doubt that Wes Anderson’s movies are rather divisive. They are alternately hailed as fresh, exciting visions in a world dominated by slightly drab franchises or dismissed as style-over-substance fluff. However, I feel that his latest effort, The Grand Budapest Hotel should not suffer from the same problems. Yes, it is hyper-stylised, symmetrical, straight-lined and full of stop-motion interludes, but beneath this exterior lies a hilarious and heartfelt script, some really excellent performances and an intriguing story set in the ever-tragic period of interwar central Europe.
The majority of the film takes place in the fictional Republic of Zubrowka in 1932, although we first arrive there after a series of flashbacks within flashbacks. We open in the present day, with a young girl going to see the commemorative statue of the man known only as the Author (Tom Wilkinson), before transitioning to the Author in 1985, telling the story of how, as a younger man (this time Jude Law), he visited the eponymous hotel in its dying days as part of the 60s Eastern Bloc. Here, he talks to the owner, Zero Moustafa (F Murray Abraham), who finally transports the audience to 30 years prior, with his first day as a lobby boy (played by newcomer Tony Revolori) in the hotel’s golden age. It is here that we stay for the best part of the next 90 minutes, with Zero and his boss, concierge Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes) , caught up in both a murder mystery and a chase through the country to protect a stolen painting.
These events lend themselves nicely to some wonderful set-pieces, the highlight of which is probably a ski chase, done through first person views and birds-eye stop-motion, all of which are visually striking and at points genuinely exciting. It is very impressive just how many grandiose moments are crammed into the film’s modest running time without it feeling too chaotic. Despite this impressive editing work, though, there are a couple of sequences that rely too heavily on a deus ex machina for resolution. However, these solutions do provide the opportunities for a huge array of excellent cameos, using Anderson stalwarts such as Jason Schwatrzman, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson and plenty more. I was wondering how the enormous cast list that had been touted on every poster and in every trailer would fit into one story, and unsurprisingly, many of them are in fun but throwaway roles.
This leaves the film with one main star, and that is Fiennes. True, this is essentially Zero’s story, but Fiennes’s charming yet sleazy presence is what really draws attention whenever he is on screen. Camp, loud and just a little bit sad, Gustave H is a wonderful creation, breathing life into every single sentence he’s given. Also, Fiennes says ‘fuck’ incredibly well, which is the icing on an already outlandishly decorated cake.
If I had to pick out a weakness, it would be that the overarching plot is not as interesting as all the smaller moments that add up to it, and it does get lost behind its constituent parts every now and then. However, the film is incredibly entertaining, very witty and full of really excellent visual gags, so this shouldn’t affect your enjoyment of it too much. Check into the Grand Budapest and you’re guaranteed a good time.