The Grand Budapest Hotel

Movie Review #771: Ralph Fiennes and clever visuals dominate ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’.

★★★
By Alexander Diminiano
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Comedy
Rated R (contains profanity, sexual content, violence)
100 minutes

“You filthy, goddamn, pock-marked, fascist assholes! Take your hands off my Lobby Boy!” – M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes)

The Grand Budapest is a fictional hotel located in the fictional Republic of Zubrowka. The nation takes its name from a kind of Russian vodka, and it rarely gets any visitors. This could be because of all the war and poverty that has stricken the country. Or, it could be because the Grand Budapest is isolated from the war and poverty, and therefore, it’s isolated from the people, as well. You have to take a cable car to get up to this getaway venue, and I mean the aerial kind, not the railway kind that you’d see in San Francisco.

Running the hotel is a millionaire and control freak, Monsieur Gustave (Ralph Fiennes). To him, the amount of guests they have doesn’t really matter. Everything has to be top-notch, most likely for his very own sake. Sure he’s a bit of a caricature, but he’s (appropriately enough) in control of the entire movie. His delivery is serious, so when he delivers one of the crazier lines from Wes Anderson’s screenplay, it’s absolutely hilarious. The line I’ve quoted at the beginning of this review, in particularly, is a gutbuster, as well as one of the best lines in any movie so far in 2014.

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” is a charmingly creative movie, in both its story and its visuals. The approach to storytelling, in fact, becomes visual here. Different aspect ratios are employed to represent different eras. The film covers three: scenes from the last three decades, scenes from the 1960s, and scenes from the 1930s, represented in 1.85:1, 2.35:1, and 1.37:1, respectively. Though the film is set predominantly in the 1930s, so it’s mostly in the squarish 1.37:1 format. “Budapest” becomes more convincing as a 1930s movie, not only because most 1930s movies were shot in the 1.37:1 ratio, but also because of the set design and cinematography that is nothing short of signature for Wes Anderson. Any time the camera angles a faraway shot, or cuts in on an object, there’s an artificial look, and it seems to add to the lively, youngish imagination of this tale.

Wes Anderson’s oeuvre has always seemed to consisted of lighthearted, offbeat fables, except there’s a focus on youth and family rather than animals.  (“Fantastic Mr. Fox” being an exception, though it’s not really about foxes so much as it is about a family of foxes.)  “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is the first movie from the director to feature neither youth nor family.  And it seems to be modeled after one of Anderson’s earlier movies, “The Royal Tenenbaums”.  The characters seem and premise to match up pretty well, and Adrien Brody seems to represent Ben Stiller’s Chas Tenenbaum so obviously that he almost seems a miscast.  The one difference is that this is a somewhat lesser-known ensemble cast, where as everybody in “Tenenbaums” was an all-star movie any way you look at it.

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” works thanks to a great cast, an imaginative story, and fantastic screenwriting.  Even if you feel cheated by their absence from most of the movie (given their frequent collaboration with Anderson), it’s difficult not to love the brief appearances of Owen Wilson and Bill Murray.  Maybe there’s other reasons “Budapest” doesn’t meet expectations, but it’s still a damn good movie.  We’ve gotta consider how high our standards are for it, anyhow: after two consecutive Wes Anderson classics–“Fantastic Mr. Fox” in 2009 and “Moonrise Kingdom” in 2012–it’s only natural that we should anticipate another perfect comedy.  “Budapest” disappoints based on the principle that it’s not perfect, but otherwise, it’s a wonderful movie. ✴

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8 thoughts on “The Grand Budapest Hotel

  1. Even if you weren’t completely wowed by it, glad you had fun with this one. I loved it. Such a fun little film. Although I have to disagree with your assessment that it’s “the first movie from the director to feature neither youth nor family”. Maybe not the latter, but among other things, it’s a great coming-of-age story about Zero, I think.

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