Tuesday, April 8, 2014

A wide-eyed European spectacle…

Wes Anderson has such a distinct visual style.  His films are always uniquely his own, carrying his stamp of stylistic integrity and feeling very identifiable.  You’ll never see one of his films and wonder to yourself, “who directed this?” because his work is that identifiable.  This is a good thing when you’re style and identity is as wonderfully fleshed out and ‘complete’ as Wes Anderson’s.  This isn’t to say that I fall head over heels for everything he does, because I don’t.  I’ve been cool to a few of his films, but after 2012’s ‘Moonrise Kingdom’, it was apparent to me that Anderson was about to be on a streak. 

I was wholly smitten and still consider it a masterpiece.

When it was announced that ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ was going to be his next film, a lot of bees began buzzing about the tremendous cast he compiled, and despite the fact that it drew to mind the unfortunate ‘The Exotic Marigold Hotel’, no one ever had to worry that this film would suffer the same fate, despite having Tom Wilkinson (who was easily the BEST thing about that ‘Marigold’ movie) in the cast.

I think I drooled for about a week after the trailer was dropped and Ralph Fiennes was seen in full on comedic awesomeness.

So, the other day I had the chance to sneak away (yes, I ditched work) and attend a matinee.  It was the perfect way to break up the stressful day, unwind and just soak in the atmosphere.  I’ll say this, while this is not my favorite Anderson film (it ranks VERY high though), this is easily his funniest film.  A lot of this is due to Fiennes’ tremendous performance, but more on that in a minute.

First, I’ll make mention that despite containing a HUGE cast of Anderson regulars and newbies, the majority of the cast outside of Fiennes, Ronan, Brody and newbie Revolori have a handful of scenes, some merely one.  Wilkinson opens and closes the film, but his screen time is under five minutes.  Law and Abraham have a few scenes scattered throughout the film, but they are brief and connective.  Goldblum, Amalric, Norton and Dafoe pop up often enough, while Keitel, Murray, Schwartzman, Swinton and Seydoux have a scene or two to their names.  That being said, everyone makes such a strong impact that they are all remembered; each and every one of them.

This clearly shines a light on the strength of Anderson’s writing, that he can create so much out of so little.

And create he does!  The story told is that of Mr. Moustafa, the owner of a grand and beautiful hotel, The Grand Budapest Hotel.  One night he is approached by a young author, curious about how he came to purchase the hotel, and through the intricately woven story of a concierge and his battle with a wealthy (and unsavory) family we are told an exciting tale of a young lobby boy, Zero, who literally came from nothing.  M. Gustave is the trusty concierge who befriends his clientele, one of which is the dying Madame D.  When she passes, turmoil erupts when she leaves a valuable renaissance painting to him, causing the family to accuse him of murder.  Little do they realize, he has already lifted the painting and his hiding it.  Imprisoned, Gustave relies on Zero to work towards his escape and clearing his name, but tracking down her final will.

The ride is chaotic, charming, witty and entirely entertaining.

I’ll say this, ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ is easily Anderson’s most European work.  His visual and tonal complexities pay tribute to the jovial quality of the French New Wave and call to mind the work of the earlier pioneers like Jean-Luc Godard.  In fact, I thought a lot of Godard’s ‘Band of Outsiders’ while watching this.  There is a scattered, comical recklessness about this whole adventure, and Anderson wears that so well.

But for every inspired set piece and every eye-catching costume and every thought provoking plot twist, this film is ALL ABOUT RALPH FIENNES!  I have to say, I’ve never been on the Fiennes train, at least not as heavily as so many others.  Yes, I consider his work in ‘Schindler’s List’ to be one of the finest Supporting Performances of all time, but outside of that I’ve never really been a consistent fan.  He’s always reliable, but never truly tremendous.  Here, he is tremendous.  He delivers one of the most inspired comedic performances I’ve ever seen; ever.  The way he handles every line of dialog is so easy, so natural, and he has a mouthful at every turn.  He delivers everything with this nonchalance that breathes such naturalism into his performance, and he layers each word with an intricate balance of emotions.  You can see a deeper man, despite his glossy surface.

Fisti bound?
I’ll be surprised, and I mean that, if I see another performance this year I like more.

With all the gushing, I have to highly recommend this.  Yes, it has a few flaws, especially in the finale, but getting there is such a splendid ride.  It is the most consistently humorous film that Anderson has crafted, and while it doesn’t reach the levels of emotional clarity and insightfulness of ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ (which is such a high point), this is top tier Anderson and a great place to realize the need for talent, and vision, like his.

I give this a solid A.  I loved this so much.  It is easily one of Anderson's most accessible works as well, which should reach a larger audience.  Oscar may completely pass this over, thanks to the March release date.  This would be sad, as Oscar nominations for nearly every tech (costumes, art direction, score) as well as the writing and most importantly Fiennes (and Abraham) would be such a beautifully splendid thing.  I only hope that the Globes remember this one.


  1. Great review Andrew!! Agreed that Fiennes was in "...full on comedic awesomeness" Wes wrote the part for him and it worked beautifully. I do love Abraham and Revolori in the same role, both of them gave so much heart to the film, esp. Abraham as the older Zero.

    – ruth

    1. It certainly shows that this was written for Fiennes! Abraham added such tender moments...so beautifully composed for such little screen time.


  3. Great review! One of the theaters in my city has this, and none of the show times work out for me. It's frustrating, I want to see this so badly.

    1. It was a spur of the moment dash to the movies that just so happened to work out...since I was resigned to not see this till it came out on DVD too. I hope you can steal some time soon!

  4. Fiennes is terrific, and the film is gorgeous. I just wish I liked it a little more. I'm stuck on an A- at the moment, but I might rewatch it this weekend to see if that changes.

  5. An A- is still pretty great. I mean, I'm at an A, so not much different. It's not perfect. Moonrise was much better, and deeper, but I've NEVER laughed this much while watching one of his films. It did, to me, feel the most tonally consistent.

    And MY GOD, Fiennes probably gives my favorite comedic performance in like the past ten years, at least.