With the release of Moonrise Kingdom in 2012, Wes Anderson reignited my belief in his filmmaking abilities. Yes, I’m sure that was his ultimate goal all along, but prior to his colorful, sentimental look at young love, Anderson had painted himself into a corner. Whip pans and eccentric characters over stayed their welcome as Anderson returned to the same sandbox over and over again, resulting in the resounding mess known as The Darjeeling Limited in 2007. If Moonrise Kingdom was a return to form for Anderson, then The Grand Budapest Hotel is a reinvention of sorts, as he trades in his penchant for coming of age tales for an acerbic, comical whodunit. Much like Moonrise Kingdom, The Grand Budapest Hotel masquerades as a flight of fancy, but underneath its candy coated shell is a melancholic tale, one that beautifully captures an era of elegance quietly being smothered by a reign of darkness.
Like most Wes Anderson films, a verbally dexterous narrator catapults us into a whirlwind adventure, as the tale of The Grand Budapest Hotel is somberly recounted. We begin in 1932 looking through the eyes of Zero Mustafa (Tony Revolori), a refugee turned lobby boy at the titular hotel. Determined to become a legendary lobby boy, Zero seeks the tutelage of the hotel’s concierge, Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes). Gustave is the consummate concierge, fulfilling all of his customer’s needs. Gustave is especially keen on sequestering the sexual cravings of the hotel’s older female patrons. Yet, Gustave’s charmed life is halted when one of his prehistoric liaisons, Madame D (the unrecognizable Tilda Swinton), is found murdered. Gustave isn’t a suspect until his name surprisingly appears in the rich woman’s will, where she bequeathed him the famous painting known as “Boy with Apple”. Saddled with Madame D’s murder, Gustave is destined to live out the rest of his days in a maximum security prison, a life unfitting for such a noble man.
That is until Zero, with his baker girlfriend in tow (Saoirse Ronan), sets out to vindicate his cherished mentor. Murder, garish mustaches and wicked uses of the word “fuck” heighten Wes Anderson’s zany, playful film. Ralph Fiennes, an actor who seems better suited in an art-house drama, is absolutely devilish as Gustave H. His comedic timing is impeccable, but what makes him standout is his ability to morph Gustave’s boiling rage into something wholly endearing; he’s vulgar without sacrificing the character’s charm or civility. We truly haven’t seen Fiennes this vivacious on film. Surrounding Fiennes is an assortment of actors that are Wes Anderson staples and newfound partners in crime, but all of them are wonderfully injected throughout the film, offering small but memorable treasures we’re fortunate to discover along the way.
The film itself is another visual feast, as Wes Anderson lenses one of the year’s most visually stunning films. His use of color alone is invigorating, namely the warm presence of searing reds and romantic pinks throughout the hotel. In spite of the colorful production and childlike enthusiasm, The Grand Budapest Hotel is one of Wes Anderson’s darker films. From sudden acts of violence to a depressing undercurrent showing up through the narrative structure, namely the mutation of the hotel as we visit our narrators in their present state, The Grand Budapest Hotel finds Wes Anderson creating a world that is as dangerous as it is magnificent. The ending itself, a fine mixture of saccharine nostalgia and melancholy, announces the arrival of a new Wes Anderson, one that at least possesses a level of cynicism with his wide-eyed view of the world.