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Friday, March 21, 2014

Review: The absolutely delightful ‘Grand Budapest Hotel’ feels both old & new from Wes Anderson

The Grand Budapest Hotel is quite similar to all of writer-director Wes Anderson’s previous films (a good thing), and yet at the same time, very different from them as well (also a good thing). The film is, of course, still crammed with that trademark Wes Anderson look and feel, but there is something different about the movie as a whole.

First and foremost, The Grand Budapest Hotel is Wes Anderson at his most elaborate and whimsical. All the expected and instantly recognizable Wes Anderson elements are there, but amplified – the striking color palette, fascinating attention to detail, stunning set decoration and mise-en-scène, and the brilliantly choreographed, deadpan comedic timing.

Next, the characters are the same as well. First, there is M. Gustave, played with much comedic delight by a completely game Ralph Fiennes, as he fills the standard Wes Anderson eccentric-adult-male-in-arrested-development archetype. Then, there is Zero (the surprisingly capable newcomer, Tony Revolori), an attentive and resourceful bellboy, who fits in right alongside Abderson’s other neglected boys on the cusp of manhood. The rest of the expansive and diverse cast – from concierges to pastry chefs and hotel guests to prisoners – fills in for the prototypical dysfunctional family typically at the heart of all Wes Anderson films.

The film follows the zany adventures of Gustave H, a legendary concierge at a famous European hotel (in the fictional Republic of Zubrowka), and Zero Moustafa, the lobby boy who becomes his protégé and most trusted friend. After the death of his octogenarian lover (one of many elderly hotel guests he is “involved” with), she leaves Gustave a priceless painting via her highly contested will. Annoyed by this unfortunate turn of events, her dastardly son accuses him of murdering the woman in order to get his hands on the valuable artwork. With the help of his friends, old and new, M. Gustave works to clear his name while trying to restore some civility to a world that has already passed him by.

The Grand Budapest Hotel carries less dramatic weight than Anderson’s previous films. In fact, the film could easily be described as light, farcical, and even slapstick at times. The film is quite a bit more violent than audiences are used to seeing from the filmmaker, but it is almost always played off for laughs. Sure, there is the occasional dramatic moment, but the film is so amusing and moves so quick that there is little time to focus on any of it. Anderson has not been shy about revealing the 1930-40s comedic influences for the film – like Love Me Tonight, The Shop Around the Corner, and To Be or Not To Be – and the homage certainly shows.

Of all of Anderson’s previous works, The Grand Budapest Hotel is most reminiscent of Fantastic Mr. Fox in terms of style and plot. In fact, other than Fox, The Grand Budapest is arguably the only one of Anderson’s films that pays much attention to a traditional, forward-moving plot. In fact, the story is quite intricate this time around, with an almost Inception-like story-within-a-story-within-a-story. This is not to mean it is complicated or hard to follow, but rather rich and multi-layered.

As with all of his films, Anderson packs the cast with literal who’s who of regulars and other A-list talent, such as Adrien Brody, Jude Law, Willem Dafoe, Edward Norton, Tilda Swinton, Harvey Keitel, Jeff Goldblum, F. Murray Abraham, Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, Tom Wilkinson, Saoirse Ronan, Mathieu Amalric, Léa Seydoux, Bob Balaban, and Bill Murray. Whether it be for a few scenes or a few seconds, it is always fun to see all these actors pop up throughout the film. The only problem is, much more often than not, you want to see more of their wonderfully brief characters before they disappear off-screen never to return.

But in a way, that is indicative of all Wes Anderson films as a whole. They are so funny, quick, and entertaining that you never want to leave the whimsical world Wes has lovingly created – and The Grand Budapest Hotel is no exception. Everyone has their favorites and a valid argument can be made for most of his films, but as Wes Anderson clearly settles into his prime filmmaking stride, Grand Budapest deserves to be in the discussion too with all the others, especially as time passes. 

Also, check out our North vs. South Top 5 Wes Anderson Films Lists here

* * * * ½ out of 5 stars

The Grand Budapest Hotel is now playing in select cities. It opens Friday, March 21 in other cities.

This review originally appeared on Chris's official review page. Check it out and other reviews on


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