From the very beginning The Grand Budapest Hotel presents itself as a celebration of storytelling. It is told nest-egg style, with each new introduced frame opening up to a world more whimsical and fantastic than the last, with changing aspect ratios to match. Jude Law’s “young writer,” the eventual storyteller, sits down with Mr. Moustafa, owner of the now failing, drab, and dull-orange Grand Budapest, to hear the story of Zero’s days as the Grand Budapest’s lobby boy. At the 4th layer of this story is Wes Anderson himself, weaving together a delightful caper of comedy and melancholy that stands as the director’s finest achievement.
The Grand Budapest’s design is luscious and whimsical, and at the center of this impeccably lit and bustling establishment is Monsieur Gustave H, the hotel’s concierge. Undeniably a Wes Anderson creation, Gustave is full of romantic suave, quirky, slightly effeminate, and the perfect embodiment of the nostalgia the film oozes from every pink-hued frame. Ralph Fiennes delivers the performance of his career as the “liberally perfumed” concierge. After one of Gustave’s elderly lovers is murdered he is willed “Boy With Apple,” a famous painting of incalculable wealth. Gustave and his loyal apprentice Zero (an outstanding breakout performance from Tony Revolori) come to claim the painting and quickly find themselves on the run from the son and his cronies. Fiennes is perfect in every gesture, in the way he holds his hands, and in the way he says “goddamn.” His Gustave inevitably steals the show but not without considerable competition from the formidable cast.
The Grand Budapest Hotel is Anderson’s funniest film to date. Nearly every speaking role is inhabited by a familiar face, with the whole cast stepping up (and quirking up) their game, rising to the occasion. Willem Dafoe’s absurd J.G. Jopling, a cat-tossing finger-chopping heavy, is a highlight. He has his own motif, one of many superb cues from Alexandre Desplat, a minor key pipe-organ tune that, when paired with Dafoe’s all-black attire is enough to incite a gut-busting laugh by itself.
Wes Anderon’s controlled style is occasionally suffocating but this world, this hotel, these characters, and these stories seem perfectly suited to his quirky aesthetic. The cinematography and production design are gorgeous, the pink-hued atmosphere so palpable I could nearly smell Gustave’s L’Air de Panache perfume. Ultimately the only reason all of this aesthetic beauty is beautiful rather than unbearable is because here Anderson’s style is the substance. The central duo is not only a hilarious and loveable pairing but a meaningful one. It’s difficult for a film to balance pure comedy with darkness and melancholy but The Grand Budapest Hotel succeeds; it is clear the older Moustafa is full of loneliness and sadness, his life torn apart by war. “We were happy there, for awhile,” he says to the writer, his eyes full of that old world of Gustave. The Grand Budapest Hotel is a wistful tale emphasizing the importance of stories and nostalgia, proving that Anderson isn’t just a director full of funny jokes and pretty sets, but a storyteller capable of crafting a beautiful, hilarious, melancholic, and resonating work of art.
★★★★½ out of 5