Posted April 12, 2014 by William Dunmyer in Comedy

Grand Budapest Hotel: Charming, Visually Gorgeous

By Mona Gerber Milbrodt

The Grand Budapest Hotel: Gorgeous production values, Ralph Fiennes‘s charismatic comedic turn, and priceless cameos make this movie feel like an enjoyable, if slightly inconsequential, outing.

As Shrek once said to Donkey, “There’s a lot more to ogres than people think…ogres have layers,” and the way director Wes Anderson has wrapped this visually captivating film – his eighth – in layers of storytelling makes it a frothy and enjoyable indulgence from beginning to end, with only a few instances where the caper starts to drag… just a hair.

The story (Anderson co-wrote the screenplay), filled with his trademark deadpan dialogue, recounts the adventures of Gustave H., a legendary concierge at a famous European hotel, and Zero Moustafa, the lobby boy who becomes his most trusted friend. Not that it matters all that much, but it involves the battle for an enormous family fortune against the darkening backdrop of a dramatically changing Europe.

What does matter (and provides the “a lot more” factor) is the 51-year-old Fiennes’ delightfully captivating, oddball character portrayal of Gustave. He has played sadistic (Amon Goeth in Schindler’s List), pathetic (Count Laszlo in The English Patient) and anemic (Justin Quayle in The Constant Gardner), but who would think he would play comedic so brilliantly?

Underpinning that brilliance is the strong support Fiennes gets from every supporting player in the cast – which reads like a who’s who – and the performance of 17-year-old Tony Revolori as young Zero.  Although not a newcomer (he’s appeared in several TV shows and the 2009 based-on-a-true-story film The Perfect Game) this is Revolori’s first leading role, and he engages us every second he’s onscreen.

As far as the star power in this film, some of the straight-faced stand-outs (rocking incredible make-up and other character accoutrements) include veteran Anderson collaborators Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Edward Norton, Jeff Goldblum and Adrien Brody, and Anderson first-timer Mathieu Amalric from the remarkable 2007 The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.

Anderson and co-writer Hugo Guinness say that Gustave H. was inspired by an old friend, and Anderson wanted the story, which takes place between world wars, to be in the style of Viennese writer Stefan Zweig. “I loved Zweig’s voice, the way he began a story, and the way we get into the story,” Anderson noted. “We always said our friend would be the greatest concierge,” which turned out to be the catalyst for expanding and finishing the original script. Despite that lineage of source material, this is not a plot-driven movie, and for all its wonderful scenes and sights, there are times when things seem to plod along before the next interaction or surprise.

I’ve alluded to the film’s visual excitement and power (kudos to production designer Adam Stockhausen), but I’m not going to get into the technical details, despite the fact that much has been made about how Anderson played with the different aspect ratios (square and widescreen) in making it.  “We shot them each like a different movie,” he explained, “and then it all gets put together. All the prints are done digitally now, so it’s simple for us to decide how we want to present it. It was a smooth process.”

Movie-goers are in on the jokes (as well as the smatterings of sorrow) right from the beginning as we go along for this eccentric ride that successfully pays homage to 007 as well as the Marx Brothers.  Grab your popcorn and go!

William Dunmyer

William Dunmyer is a lifelong cinephile who fell in love with movies at about the age of 5. He lives in New York City.