My stay at The Grand Budapest Hotel was thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish. More visually-driven than Wes Anderson’s previous work, Grand Budapest hits all the notes it needs to. Yet, overall, the film failed to leave me with the same satisfied feeling that I had fter first seeing Moonrise Kingdom; however, it should be noted the only real similarity between these two movies comes in the form of the directorial flourishes of Anderson; in that regard, fear not. Grand Budapest lives up to the Wes Anderson style in the truest sense of the ill-defined term.
The movie follows the relationship of Gustav H., played by Ralph Fiennes, and Zero Moustafa, played by Tony Revolori, as the two embark on a journey to prove Gustav’s innocence in the murder of a close acquaintance. As the action unfolds, so do a bevy of cameos, whimsical set pieces, and smile-inducing quirks. The framework of the film is a retelling of a story, which effectively results in a three-layered narrative that altered by the effects of time on memory. In this way, Grand Budapest essentially offers a “stylistic explanation,” a feature unique among Anderson’s films that, especially in the seemingly vapid characterizations, works to smooth over some the films weaker points. To be clear, the existence of a valid explanation does not mean that I am “okay with” those weaker points.
All told, the story works—it does what a good story should, namely keeping the audience invested. However, there are times when this pseudo-whodunit/prison-break/love story/coming-of-age tale/buddy adventure feels like just that: too much, too indecisive. Granted, in scope and style this movie is undeniably the most ambitious of Anderson’s career. While many elements feel intentionally shrunken down, the storytelling suffers a little under the immense weight of countless cameos, locations, and layers.
Visually speaking, the movie has a very clearly defined texture. As with most of his previous projects, Anderson makes use of a curiously crafted and meticulously executed mise-en-scène that runs throughout the film, bleeding into every last element from the dialogue to the shot transitions.
The result feels contained, even when following an ‘exhilarating’ sled chase. In essentially every scene are striking, pastel color combinations that are like a four-star all-you-can-eat buffet for the eyes with similar consequences; it is both delicious and nauseating in its decedent richness.
Outside of Fiennes, the performances fall flat. Most of the actors simply are not given enough of an opportunity to shine especially in light of the distant manner of the dialogue that defines Anderson’s films. The biggest disappointment is Revolori. Though Anderson has had a pretty successful history working with first-time actors in lead roles, nod to Rushmore and Moonrise Kingdom, the nature of Grand Budapest, being far less of a character study than a plot-driven spectacle, leads me to want to place the onus more on Anderson than Revolori. The character would have benefitted far more from an actor with quicker delivery that expresses more through facial expressions and body language than his tongue (an Owen-Wilson type), rather than the sweet – if not flat – performance delivered by Revolori.
Though my very high expectations were not met, I would certainly recommend this movie. Almost every single shot has something – quirk or otherwise – that will put a smile on your face, if one’s not already there. Despite this, Grand Budapest is definitely Anderson’s darkest film to date though not his most grown-up (I’d give that distinction to Darjeeling Limited). 6/10.
by Jeff Bernstein '15