An all star cast star in visionary director Wes Anderson’s 7th film, recounting the story of how its owner (F. Murray Abraham, Amadeus) came into possession of the Grand Budapest hotel and the unruly escapades that followed…
Let me start by saying that you have to be in a certain frame of mind to watch a Wes Anderson film. He’s a polarising force amongst audiences, with his legion of devoted fans countered by his detractors. Although not without their merits, this reviewer must profess to disliking Rushmore, The Darjeeling Limited and Moonrise Kingdom, but thoroughly enjoyed The Royal Tenenbaums, albeit belatedly, and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. Without a doubt, Anderson is a distinct presence within cinema, and we need more auteurs, daring to push the boundaries of what mainstream cinema can be.
In addition to all his regular players: Willem Dafoe, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Jason Schwartzman, Adrien Brody, Jeff Goldblum, Owen Wilson and Waris Ahluwalia, he has brought in the talents of Ralph Fiennes, Harvey Keitel and Jude Law, amongst others. All give acceptable performances, particularly Ralph Fiennes and Jeff Goldblum. Tilda Swinton even redeems herself after Zero Theorem with an all too brief appearance. The cast alone is enough to draw crowds, although disappointingly many have only fleeting cameos. Fiennes is simultaneously charming and despicable. Tony Revolori, as the young Zero, is a suitable foil, although his appearance is completely incongruous to his adult counterpart. That’s a joke, right? So why did nobody laugh? None of the cast, with the exception of its lead, are given particularly much to work with. Edward Norton didn’t impress as he usually does, Wilson barely has any screen time. Bill Murray is underused, as is Jason Schwartsman having admittedly had their turns. Willem Dafoe’s performance was okay, but not as good as his role in Zissou. I am not one to question Jude Law’s somewhat uneven acting capabilities, but there was nothing to complain about here. This reviewer cannot be objective about Adrien Brody. Saoirse Ronan was sufficient, but was better in Hanna. Tom Wilkinson was just fine for the part.
Aesthetically, it is perfectly realised and is a glory to behold, complete with stylised model exteriors and fantastic editing. Anderson deploys all his usual cinematic tropes: the high artifice, lavish sets, stilted dialogue, exquisite attention to detail, narratives within narratives, and humorous camera movements, only this time, for me, they weren’t as effective as previously. Admittedly, it’s probably his most realised film, only it doesn’t seem to amount to very much. Unlike Zissou where the camera movements through cross -sections of the boat evoked chortles, and the doll’s house sets of Moonrise Kingdom recall youthful innocence, which felt appropriate to the narrative, although his directorial stamp, proved mere excessive decoration this time around, much like the cakes Zero’s partner bakes. It’s all surface, which undoubtedly was highly intentional, but all it serves to do is distance the viewer so that you never really connect with the film, aside, perhaps, for Gustave and Zero’s scene just after escaping from prison. It’s probably some form of Brechtian device, but what do I know? The change in aspect ratio, although harking back to earlier cinema, is just plain annoying. I’m a fan of Alexander Desplat’s ‘Birth’ soundtrack, too, but personally found his work in this instance grating.
It is mildly amusing and elicited the odd wry smile from me, namely during the destruction of a ‘worthless’ Egon Schiele picture by Dmitiri, during which I regrettably prided myself on my understanding as the rest of the audience sat in silence, and the odd chuckle, such as when Gustave retracts his diatribe against immigrants, but little else. I almost willed myself not to laugh at times, so hard was he trying to provoke it from me, particularly with its supposedly humorous outbursts of profanities. I didn’t want to allow myself to join in the fun as it evoked a hoity-toity titter here or a knowing guffaw there from the audience. You could almost feel the majority of the viewers trying to appreciate the film, as if you are some way uncultured or lacking intelligence if you don’t get it. Using Gustave as a mouthpiece, Anderson comments in the film that ‘getting it’ is important.