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Josh Reviews The Grand Budapest Hotel

Ever since seeing The Royal Tenenbaums in theatres and being absolutely blown away, I’ve been a big fan of Wes Anderson.  Over the last few years, the filmmaker has been on a particularly special, can’t-do-any-wrong winning streak.  I thought Fantastic Mr. Fox was his strongest film since The Royal Tenenbaums (click here for my original review), then I fell just as deeply in love with Moonrise Kingdom (click here for my review), and now I’m here to tell you that his latest film, The Grand Budapest Hotel, is an equally magnificent concoction.

The film chronicles the bond that forms between Gustav H. (Ralph Fiennes), the refined concierge of the Grand Budapest Hotel — an expensive hotel high in the mountains of the fictional European nation of Zubrowka — and the young lobby boy, Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori).  The young Zero idolizes Gustav, who takes the lobby boy under his wing.  Gustav is a master of his profession, with a sixth sense as to how to provide his customers with what they need before they even realize they need it.  He also has a habit of sleeping with the wealthy, elderly women who frequent the hotel.  When one of his paramours, Madame D. (Tilda Swinton, under some impressive old-age make-up) dies, she leaves much of her estate to Gustav in her will (including, most notably, a beloved family heirloom, the painting called “Boy with Apple”).  This, of course, irritates her nasty children, who conspire to cause much trouble for the concierge.  

The Grand Budapest Hotel is a delightful romp, filled with a lot of humor and some terrific set-pieces.  The film is a historical drama and a murder mystery and a chase film and a prison break story and much more, all at once.  It’s also a surprisingly winsome, bittersweet piece of nostalgia for an idealized world that has passed.  The film is structured as a series of stories within stories, a structure than not only gives the film a bit of mind-bending fun but also emphasizes the nostalgic nature of the story being told.  We’re reminded repeatedly that the world of Gustav H. no longer exists, and that drapes the story in a layer of sadness, no matter how much fun we’re having as we watch his adventures.  I love the extra bit of emotional power that gives to the proceedings, and I was particularly taken by the specific note upon which Mr. Anderson chose to end the film.  It’s a surprisingly somber moment, and I loved it.

Wes Anderson has developed a very distinct visual style, and part of the secret of the success of his last several films in particular has been how well his style has meshed with the story being told.  Like both Fantastic Mr. Fox and Moonrise Kingdom, in many ways The Grand Budapest Hotel feels like something of a fairy tale.  As such, Mr. Anderson’s style, which in many ways emphasizes the artificiality of his films’ settings, works perfectly.  Additionally, his incredible attention to detail is used to maximum effect in bringing the Grand Budapest Hotel itself to life.  Mr. Anderson brings such specificity, such focus of attention to every detail, every set and every prop, and these details cumulate to make the hotel feel real, which is critical to the film.  (He’s also successful, just as importantly, at differentiating the hotel in its prime, as seen in the majority of the film, from the glimpses we get in the book-end sequences of the hotel many years later, when its greatness has long-since faded.)

Another of Wes Anderson’s strengths has always been his casting, and The Grand Budapest Hotel is chock full of incredible actors doing amazing work.  Many of Mr. Anderson’s regular troupe of actors appear (waiting for Bill Murray to pop up in Mr. Anderson’s films has become as much fun for me as is waiting for the Stan Lee cameo in any Marvel movie), along with several performers who are new to his movies.  The great Ralph Fiennes is magnificent as Gustav H.  He brings such dignity to the role, such grace.  Gustav could have, in another version of this film, been a pompous or silly character, but Mr. Fiennes gives Gustav a powerful nobility that anchors the film.  He also displays incredible comedic timing that we don’t usually get to see from Mr. Fiennes, who usually plays deadly-serious roles.  He is paired perfectly with the young Tony Revolori as his lobby boy Zero.  To the best of my knowledge this is Mr. Revolori’s first film, and the boy is stupendous, absolutely perfect in every scene.  He displays some pretty wonderful comedic timing himself, and he’s also able to play the film’s dramatic moments with great confidence.  Mr. Fiennes and Mr. Revolori form a terrific pair, and the film works because we invest in their relationship with one another.

Adrien Brody and Willem Dafoe chew a lot of scenery as the film’s two main villains, and they are both delightful, both menacing and hysterical at the same time.  Jeff Goldblum is a riot as the unfortunate lawyer who gets tangled up in the film’s events.  Saoirse Ronan strikes just the right notes as the young girl with whom Zero falls in love.  She’s sweet and plucky and I would love to see an entirely different film in which this story was told from her perspective.  Edward Norton was incredible in Moonrise Kingdom and he has a similar, albeit smaller, role here.  I’m a big fan of F. Murray Abraham, and after enjoying his small but pivotal role in Inside Llewyn Davis (click here for my review), I was delighted to see him pop up here in another small but equally pivotal role here.  Mathieu Almaric, Harvey Keitel, Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson, and Jude Law are each magnificent in their roles, and I was also thrilled to see the afore-mentioned Bill Murray, as well as Jason Schwartzman, Owen Wilson, and Bob Balaban each of whom step in at various points in the film.  What an ensemble!

I highly recommend The Grand Budapest Hotel.  I found it to be an absolute delight.  It’s funny and exciting and sweet and a little sad.  The cast is wonderful and the filmmaking is exquisite.  I couldn’t possibly ask for anything more.

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