Review: The Grand Budapest Hotel (Anderson, 2014)

Still from the movie The Grand Budapest Hotel

It feels as though I’m the last Wes Anderson fan on earth to have seen this film, but we finally got around to watching it a few weekends ago.

The Grand Budapest Hotel, like all the other Anderson flicks I’ve seen, is a quirky delight. Familiar faces from previous Anderson films abound–Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Adrien Brody, Edward Norton–but newcomers are plentiful as well, not least of whom is young Tony Revolori (of Guatemalan descent, in case you were wondering), who, from the outset, fits right in to the Anderson sensibility (but of course we expect no less). And then there’s the exquisite Ralph Fiennes, whom almost all the critics agree stole the show.

As with its predecessors, Grand Budapest revels in a highly stylized, self-indulgent nostalgia, this time in the Republic of Zubrowka, a fictional Central European country set in an alternate historical period closely resembling the years surrounding World War II, as well as a time several decades into the future (and then several decades into the future beyond that). The plot is constructed as a Russian doll of flashbacks, with the outermost layer depicting an elderly writer (Tom Wilkinson) looking back upon his visit to a decaying Grand Budapest Hotel wherein his then young self (Jude Law) meets the aged hotel owner, Mr. Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham). In the second layer, Moustafa and the young author sit down to dinner as Moustafa relates the story of how he came to be the hotel’s owner. This innermost layer, which comprises the bulk of the plot, traces the relationship between the exacting hotel concierge, M. Gustave (Fiennes), and Zero Moustafa’s younger self (Revolori), when he becomes the new lobby boy and Gustave’s indispensable assistant.

The Grand Budapest Hotel possesses all the typical Anderson elements of intrigue, adventure, competition, and “true” love. It is this love that the coddling nostalgia serves, because Anderson is nothing if not a romantic (albeit an eccentric one), and he recognizes that the simplicity he wishes to depict could not survive in any other setting. At the same time, in Anderson’s films a darker intention always threatens the idealism–not of his young protagonists, per se, who blink at the threat uncomprehendingly–but of the film itself, which acknowledges with a sad nod that the adult world is much more sinister, savage, complicated, and dirty, but still must peddle its innocent charm. The darkness is for the future, but the darkness makes the candypop present that much more tenuous, fraught, and fragile.

In the course of writing these reviews, I have noticed how the passage of time impacts my ultimate feelings about a movie. Though I liked Grand Budapest immediately, now, nearly three weeks later, I realize that it nonetheless didn’t make much of an impression on me. Why? I cannot say, except that, besides being visually marvelous, it doesn’t offer me much to sink my teeth into. Perhaps it’s the absence of moral complexity. My husband remarked that, unlike in other Wes Anderson movies, Grand Budapest features a clearcut villain, embodied in Dmitri (Brody), the son of M. Gustave’s octogenarian lover (Tilda Swinton), and his hired muscle Jopling (Willem Dafoe). Anderson always includes a rival, but a villain? We could think of none from past films.

But my complaint is minor. I liked the film, if not immensely–well, at least with the expectant enjoyment of a fan.