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Wes Anderson’s latest film goes down like a smooth Merlot. Alas, if you don’t fancy a good red (no judgment intended) then this offbeat, historical romp might feel more tedious than delectable.
But for Anderson fans, and even a few on-the-fence movie lovers, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” marks a career high for a director content with revisiting the same story, or at least the same visual world.
An Anderson film is a hipster’s paradise: 1970s redux fashion and hair, vintage colors, a satirized high-class society and conversations equally perplexing and ironic. But in “Grand Budapest”, the conventions employed in films like “The Royal Tenenbaums”, “The Darjeeling Limited” and “Moonrise Kingdom” work in favor of originality. By most accounts, this is all Anderson as usual, but a dark flair and some choice vernacular (a.k.a. some strategically placed cursing) spice up his formula.
Quirky characters, check. His color palette, check. Cameos by Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman and Tilda Swinton, and reprisals by Jeff Goldblum, Edward Norton and Adrian Brody, check, check. But in the midst of Andersonian tropes, something new emerges. Returning to his R-rated format with unseen vigor, we witness something novel and surprisingly eerie … well, Wes Anderson-eerie; there are more deadpan faces and warm red colors in his take on grim.
Predictably, the storyline matters less than in your average Hollywood fare. M. Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes) serves as concierge at the Grand Budapest Hotel in the secluded (and highly fictional) Republic of Zubrowka –– a region with constant regime changes in the 1930s. Following the death of Madame D. (Swinton), one of the many elderly, blond women Gustave “services” off the clock, he learns she left him a priceless painting, to the anger of son Dmitri Desgoffe-und-Taxis (Brody) –– her real killer.
With the help of blinged-out assassin, J.G. Jopling (Willem Dafoe), Dmitri frames Gustave and attempts to silence any dissenters. But what Dmitri doesn’t anticipate is Gustave’s will to free himself from prison thanks to his trusty lobby boy, Zero Mustafa (Tony Revolori), love interest Agatha (Saoirse Ronan) and an underground society riddled with cameos.
Don’t get too attached to every character –– some might not survive this cat-and-mouse game. But each death is tinged with humor. Even when a victim loses a few fingers it never quite feels brutal. Abrupt of course, but not brutal. Maybe it’s the music. Or maybe Anderson just embarked on a new path he will hopefully continue to explore in future films.
I must admit, my enjoyment of Anderson’s films rarely travels past initial viewings. They are always memorable, but dry humor and incredibly stylized dialogue need a soul. So when I say “Grand Budapest” isn’t just courtesy-laugh funny, but really funny, hopefully the emphasis is clear. And it’s all thanks to one man.
This is Fiennes’ show. Hedes, Voldemort, Amon Goeth (from “Schindler’s List”; voted as AFI’s top villain) –– Fiennes knows villainy. Luckily, comedy is not something-that-must-not-be-named in his playbook. Between affinity for the elderly and caricatured devotion to civility and concierge craft, the man provides one of the best performances of the year thus far –– one I don’t see easily being outdone.
And in the midst of Anderson’s hipster-dark humor, there is an air of truth. He often features choice cinematic moments that trail away from his normal aesthetics for aesthetics’ sake, like a young Indian boy drowning (“The Darjeeling Limited”) or a disturbingly-graphic attempted suicide (“The Royal Tenenbaums”). Rather than insert one such moment in “Grand Budapest”, he peppers them throughout the entire film. The world is changing, and our Gustave resists that change alone –– a remnant of the old world.
He continually bemoans the downfall of civility in 1930s Europe, all of which paves the way for one of the greatest global atrocities. While comedy wins the day, a tragic history haunts this film. Even the Grand Budapest Hotel — an institution of luxury just as much as a breeding site for mischief — can’t escape impending woes. Especially, Gustave must defend his friend Zero, simply because this lobby boy’s ethnicity differs from everyone else.
“The Grand Budapest Hotel” breathes new life into Anderson’s filmography. It’s about time. Eccentric, cartoonish and dark –– 2014 won’t premiere another film like this. Finally, Anderson creates a film just as original as it is hilarious. More importantly, he finally creates a comedy that fits the category in more than name.
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