Robert Tiemstra ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
“Quirky” may be one of the most overused words in film discussion and criticism. One only need look through reviews of Wes Anderson’s latest film to discover that a film critic calling this movie “quirky” shows about as much insight as saying The Bible may have something to do with God. A better word to describe this film would be “Quaint”, for that it very much is: lovingly, charmingly, unflappably quaint. It is quaint right down to its very structure, which is that of a storybook. It may even be a storybook for kids, if the graphic violence, crude language, and occasional blunt sexual references don’t give your children pause.
To say that The Grand Budapest Hotel is full of energy would be something of an understatement. At times, it seems this film is made of it. This is a movie so enthusiastically paced it often runs the risk of outrunning its own plot. The setup: an inexperienced Lobby Boy at The Grand Budapest hotel named Zero (Tony Revolori) becomes embroiled in a dastardly scheme by association with his mentor Gustav H. (Ralph Fiennes), concierge of the film’s eponymous hotel. Gustav and Zero find out he has inherited a priceless painting from one of his elderly flames, who drops dead of (what else?) poison. The rest of the film is a frenetic sequence of chases and escapes for Gustav and Zero: in and out of prison, and all around the snow capped mountains filled to the brim with cameos.
This is a sterling example of a film that never runs out of steam, both for better and worse. The dialogue is sharp, witty, and quick, and the world is vividly brought to life through extremely stylized cinematography – distinguished by a camera that whips and zooms with the same cartoonish energy that flows through the cast. That is not to say that it doesn’t have depth: it is clear this film is well aware its characters are people, not just instruments of a plot, and while backstory is sparse, it is well employed amongst this cast to flush out the motivation behind this broadly drawn nest of oddballs.
Speaking of the cast, Ralph Fiennes is a revelation here. Most well known for portraying some of the most iconic psychopaths ever to grace the silver screen, such as Lord Voldemort (Harry Potter), Amon Goeth (Schindler’s List), and Francis Dolarhyde (Red Dragon), Fiennes disappears into one of the most suavely charming characters this side of James Bond (minus the whole “secret agent” thing). Gustav H. is almost like the film in a nutshell: despite being thrown into brutal situations that would turn any man grim, Gustav maintains both a dignity and a elegant charm that make him believable as both a mentor figure and a suave ladies’ man. The psychopath role in this story is instead taken not by Fiennes, but by Willem Dafoe as J.G. Jopling: a cartoonishly evil henchman who manages to make menace funny and funny menacing, often at the same time.
Even the minor supporting characters pop off the screen with vivid flare, brought to life by an impressive array of celebrities – Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel and an unrecognizable Tilda Swinton, among others. Jude Law and Tom Wilkinson share a character in a framing story that works better than any framing device in recent Hollywood, which proves a simple textbook ending is all one needs to give an effective conclusion.
This is a curious film to discuss tonally, for there are quite a few moments that come dangerously close to effectively shattering the storybook presentation of this whole affair. A few moments of graphic violence, f-bombs, and some scenes involving removed body parts left many of the audience squirming in their seats. The violence, however, adds something that many entirely chase-based Hollywood films lack: stakes. The sudden and merciless deaths of several supporting characters give the film both a hard edge and dramatic urgency the trailers had cunningly hidden from would-be viewers.
There are few concrete flaws (if any) in the execution of this film. The principal flaw of The Grand Budapest Hotel ends up being a tonal one. Odds are, if you enjoy this film, you will leave wanting to see much more of the characters than you end up getting, a flaw this film shares with many a fast-paced dramedy of the 90s. This film clocks in at 99 minutes, and while it ends very abruptly, one wonders if it could end any other way with the pace it set for itself. If you find yourself generally not a fan of Wes Anderson’s previous work, it is extremely doubtful anything in this one will change your mind, except maybe the heightened emphasis on gleeful sadism toward the middle, but you never know.
Consensus: An exceptionally witty madcap romp that will leave you pleasantly surprised and delighted – if you’re into that sort of thing.
Overall Grade: A-