What I’m Watching
I love filmmaker Wes Anderson. Not because I always confuse him with Paul Thomas Anderson who has done some fine work directing indie dramas like Magnolia and There Will Be Blood. Nor is it because I confuse his with Paul W.S. Anderson director of the action horror franchise known as Resident Evil. (You know I’m not the only one who confuses them all together) No, I enjoy Wes Anderson’s movies like The Royal Tenenbaums and Moonrise Kingdom because of the rich storytelling combined with the abundance of flavor and color in every one of his movies. They all tend to follow a certain path, quirky characters living in an outlandish world, experiencing a story that can only be told in narration form because it’s too impossible to believe if only it wasn’t somehow happening on film. What I also love about Anderson’s world of wonder is he clearly pays attention to style in addition to the substance. The substance is in the writing and the performances he brings out of his actors, the style is in the ornate location shoots, production design, the costumes, the makeup, the cinematography, even the musical score are so effective they play such integral parts in the movie they are almost seen as characters.
The Cast of Characters
The Grand Budapest Hotel is no different. Namely because the movie is named after where most of the action takes place “The Hotel” plays such a vital role in the movie that it becomes an essential character in the lives of our storytellers. Hotel is told through a series of flashbacks through two different narrations. It begins with the narration of the “author” as played in current form by Tom Wilkinson and his younger self known as “young writer” as played by Jude Law. The author regales a story of visiting a crumbling but still open for business hotel by the name of The Grand Budapest Hotel while traveling through an Alpine nation in Eastern Europe know as Zubrowka. There our storyteller meets and listens to the remarkable story of the hotel’s owner Zero Moustafa as played by F. Murray Abraham on how he came to own this Grand Hotel. Zero’s younger self, as played by newcomer Tony Revolori, begins as the hotel’s lobby boy in 1932 starts an apprenticeship under Gustave H. the hotel’s legendary concierge. He proceeds to learn from Gustave everything he needs to know about the hotel business including loyalty, duty, and love especially when it comes to the duties in the details of the job.
From there we encounter a wacky story of love and loss which revolves around Gustav getting accused of murdering one of the hotel older patron’s Madame D. (as played by Tilda Swinton) who upon her death turns leaves Gustav a priceless painting, and eventually we learn her entire fortune. But Gustav gets imprisoned for allegedly murdering Madame D. and the tale turns into both a who-dun-it mystery but a wild escape-from-jail caper as well. In between there are supporting roles from many a star, some of whom have worked with Anderson before, among them Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Harvey Keitel, Jeff Goldblum, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, and Owen Wilson. Some play key roles, other have a blink and you missed it cameo role. They’re all fun and the plotting of the entire film with all of these characters helps makes the movie role merrily along.
The reason why you need to watch this movie for the second time is not about the plot. That’s not hard to ascertain. It’s a quick witted and rather simply plotted film for such a elaborate caper that straddling many genres from dark comedy to adventure to borderline suspense with a hint of emotional nostalgia thanks to the overall storytelling aspect of the movie. Strong performances by all around especially our leads Ralph Fiennes and Tony Revolori. Fiennes who I feel hasn’t been allowed to shine in a well made movie for so long finally gets his chance to dig his teeth into something meaty here with a touch a charisma, fun and sass. And Tony Revolori, whom I have never seen on screen before, is a total natural here playing it up against actors more seasoned and well known than he is. I do have some exception with the relationship between Revolori’s Zero character and his love interest Agatha (played by Saoirse Ronan), as they display very little chemistry and her role seems to be more of a setup character who barely aides Gustav and Zero in their quest to bring justice to light. And then there’s Adrien Brody who has another thankless role in which he plays the villain but has no deep storyline impact. The bigger scene stealer is the character of J.D. Jpoling (Willem Dafoe) as the heavy who personally goes after Gustave and Zero. Hijinks are to be had for sure with Gustav getting help breaking of prison to J.D. hunting down Gustav and Zero by taking down anything and anyone in his way.
This is black comedy for sure, with a surprising heavy dose of violence for a Wes Anderson movie. But what really grabbed me was the witty dialogue and ridiculous storyline that captures the essence of a Wes Anderson movie. This is a fun, mindless farce that means nothing in the long run but gets away with everything in the short term. I insist everyone go see it to see this movie that is filmed in a fictitious world where the ridiculous comes across as clever through brilliantly constructed dialog, with sharply executed timing, and unexpected plot changes. Especially take note when the action is taken outside, the camera shots come across as little art pieces very similar to the few of you who may have seen Moonrise Kingdom, they are beautifully constructed with edits that simply ad to the timing. Also, go see it for the many well played performances, which enhances the one minute absurd the next minute poignant storyline which takes you through the lives to two remarkable gentlemen and how they deal with love and loss. You’re gonna want to watch a second time to make sure you got all of the plot points and cleaver dialog the first time alone.
In the end, I expect at least two Oscar® nominations come this time year for the script and the production design. Although it only in March and the Academy rarely recognizes films this early the script and locales are too mythical and urbane to forget this time next year. For that reason alone you should see The Grand Budapest Hotel twice!