It takes some time to get your bearings in “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” First of all, it’s a Wes Anderson movie so you have to adjust to the highly-mannered, hyper-specific worldview.
Then we have to wade through a huge cast, various narrators, and different timeframes. But once all the chess pieces are arranged and the story hones in on an opulent hotel in a fictional European country in the 1920s, this delightful little movie clicks into high gear.
Our hero is the poised, polished, and resourceful concierge at the Grand Budapest Hotel, Monsieur Gustave H., who is played to the absolute hilt by Ralph Fiennes.
In addition to his many duties at the hotel, Gustave also makes time to romance wealthy, elderly women who visit the Grand Budapest. When one such countess (played by Tilda Swinton, who is aged convincingly under layers of makeup) meets her untimely end, Gustave is bequeathed an incredibly valuable painting.
This development infuriates the Countess’ generally horrible family, especially her son Dimitri (Adrien Brody), but before anyone can stop him Gustave flees with the painting with the help of his most trusted associate, Zero (Toni Revolori), a lobby boy from the Grand Budapest.
What follows is a series of manhunts, conspiracies, jailbreaks, and funicular rides all carried out in the most Anderson-ian of ways.
But the fun of a Wes Anderson movie isn’t in how he executes the plot but more in how he doodles in the margins.
Anderson is a master of the absurdly sublime, granted those words can also be used to describe an NPR fund drive (and his detractors would claim his movies are just as exciting) but I like to think it marks the exact point where wackiness meets sweetness. Sort of like Monty Python mixed with “Anne of Green Gables.”
What is also great about Anderson is his ability to perfectly cast his movies, and by now he’s built up an impressive stable of actors suited to his sensibilities that he can drop in wherever he needs them.
Sure you can set your watch by the Jason Schwartzman, Owen Wilson, and Bill Murray appearances, but “The Grand Budapest Hotel” boasts some of the finest actor-to-character matchings you’ll see anywhere.
F. Murray Abraham appears as an older, world-weary Zero who narrates most of the story by telling it all to a writer played by Jude Law.
Then you have Willem Dafoe as a menacing henchman, Jeff Goldblum as a mannered, meticulous lawyer, Saoirse Ronan as a baker’s daughter, and Zero’s love interest, Harvey Keitel as a shirtless, tattooed inmate, and Edward Norton as a noble, dogged military inspector.
But this is Fiennes’ movie and maybe the only actor to ever outshine the director in a Wes Anderson movie (I will hear your case for Gene Hackman in “The Royal Tenenbaums”).
Fiennes rarely shows his comedic side, but his timing and delivery as Gustave sort of makes you wish he had taken a John C. Reilly career turn.
His character flows effortlessly from an outsized sense of decorum to profane outbursts to the deepest of sincerity. The world seems to dance to Gustave’s tune as he embodies the very best ideals of Old World Europe. The only thing he can’t seem to manage is the march of time and the foreboding darkness and destruction that marks the beginnings of the Second World War.
Just like its namesake, there is something outrageously regal about the movie “The Grand Budapest Hotel” that makes it a warm and exciting place to check into. Just don’t bother the concierge unless you absolutely have to. He is a very busy man.
“The Grand Budapest Hotel” is rated R for language, sexual content, and violence.