The Grand Budapest Hotel
by Hope Madden
Let’s be honest, film critics love Wes Anderson. How can we help ourselves? An auteur if ever there was one, he owns a style unlike any other, marries whimsy with melancholy, gathers impeccable casts, draws beautifully unexpected performances – basically, he invites us into an imagination so wonderful and unusual that we are left breathless and giddy. We are not made of stone.
To be fair, with Anderson’s previous and most masterful effort, Moonrise Kingdom, he set a pretty high bar for himself. And while GBH doesn’t offer quite the heart of that picture, there’s a real darkness to this brightly colored outing that gives it a haunting quality quite unlike any of his previous films.
It’s a story told in flashback by one time lobby boy Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham) of the last great hotel concierge, M. Gustave (Ralph Feinnes), and a conspiracy, an art theft, a jailbreak, excellent manners, and finely crafted pastries.
The filmmaker’s inimitable framing and visual panache is unmatched, but he’s taken it to new highs with this effort. A frothy combination of artifice and reality, GBH amounts to a wickedly clever dark comedy despite its cheery palette. Anderson’s eccentric artistry belies a mournful theme.
Feinnes is magnificent in the central role, and the cast Anderson puts in orbit around him are equally wonderful. Adrien Brody, conjuring Snidley Whiplash, makes for an exceptional nemesis, while Anderson regular Willem Dafoe cuts an impressive figure as his thug sidekick.
The only filmmaker who can out-cameo a Muppet movie includes brief but memorable, brilliantly deadpan scenes with all the old gang: Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Bob Balaban, Harvey Keitel. But the real scene stealer is Europe itself.
Set between the two great wars, the film is a smoky ode to bygone glamour, a precisely drawn if slightly faded love letter to an image of the past.
Of course it is.
Says Zero of his mentor Gustav, “His world had vanished long before he ever entered it, but he certainly sustained the illusion with a marvelous grace.” He could obviously have been speaking of the director as well.