THE REEL: Book a stay at ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’

THE REEL with Ben Conniff

By: Ben Conniff

“The Grand Budapest Hotel” is more than just another entry into Wes Anderson’s cache of quirky comedies.

It’s a tremendous caper with hilarity, heart, and mayhem bursting at the seams. Its darker elements, though seemingly uncouth for an Anderson film, evoke shades of the Coen brothers. 

For those unfamiliar with Anderson, it’s worth noting that he has a very distinct visual style in all his films. “GBH” is no exception.

There’s always an actor or vertically-positioned prop defining the very center of the frame. He uses lots of vibrant colors – in this case mostly pink, red, purple, and grey. 

Anderson also utilizes lots of flat space, and his shots are mostly middle, symmetrical shots with an occasional swish pan or zoom to another flat, middle shot. 

That kind of camerawork, along with Anderson’s propensity for practical visual effects and painted sets, creates a very unique filmgoing experience for the audience. 

Such deliberate whimsy makes it feel as though you’re watching a live stage comedy or even one of the early works of French filmmaker Georges Méliès.

This kind of vibrant visual style isn’t for everyone. Fans of Anderson’s work will cherish this film as a masterpiece. If “GBH” is your first rodeo, you may not appreciate it as much. However this is only the second of his films I’ve seen, and I loved it.

The story of “GBH” is told in chapters, with each profiling specific characters and events relevant to the plot. 

The entire thing is told in this “Inception”-like fashion where a girl from the present day sits down to read a book titled “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” As she reads, the book’s author (Tom Wilkinson) gives an introductory narration in the mid-1980s. From there the voice switches to the author’s younger self (Jude Law) in the 1960s when he visits the hotel and speaks with its proprietor Mr. Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham). The yarn that Moustafa recants is his coming-of-age story as a young lobby boy in the 1930s (Tony Revolori) who plays apprentice to the hotel’s legendary concierge Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes).

When Gustave and Zero steal a famous painting from a deceased widow (Tilda Swinton), her son (Adrien Brody) and a hitman (Willem Dafoe) team up to bring them to justice. 

The narrative style works well. You almost forget it’s a huge flashback or that a girl is sitting reading the entire story in a book the whole time.

Dafoe’s hitman makes for the majority of the film’s darker moments with graphic images nearly always springing up in his wake.

Riotously quirky performances from Fiennes and Revolori stand out from a star-studded cast which also includes Harvey Kietel, Jeff Goldblum, and Edward Norton among other big names. 

The film’s only major disappointment is to see classic Anderson players like Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, and Jason Schwartzman reserved to only a few minutes, if not seconds, of screen time each.

Anyone looking to escape the usual trappings of mainstream Hollywood blockbusters should book an extended stay at “The Grand Budapest Hotel.”