Dear The Grand Budapest Hotel,
The last time I reviewed a movie by your director, Wes Anderson, the result was an ad hoc defense of his stylistic choices melded with praise for his emotional and narrative acuity. Now, with you, The Grand Budapest Hotel, it seems as though Wes Anderson himself has taken up his own defense, and has done so with his usual blend of dry humor, diorama visuals, and bleeding heart. You, as a result, are a film of rare and distinctive talents, and without a doubt the best film I have seen so far this year.
You tell an ostensibly simple yet multi-layered story centered around the titular luxury hotel. Gustave (played with dapper wit by Ralph Fiennes) is the world’s greatest concierge, making sure that every guest is dually taken care of, especially the older female clientele. He also serves as the mentor for Zero (Tony Revolori), an aspiring lobby boy who believes in the grandeur and ideals of the Grand Budapest. Their lives are thrown for a loop, however, when one of Gustave’s many elderly paramours is found dead, and he is framed for her murder after it is discovered she left him a priceless piece of art. All the while their fictitious European country is brought to the brink of war.
As one would expect from a Wes Anderson film our heroes are surrounded by a cavalcade of bizarre and endearing characters. Anderson excels as creating strange worlds that operate by their own logic and adhere to their own aesthetic tablet. Here, that visual sensibility acts as a kind of balm over the inherent darkness at the heart of this story.
It takes a while to build, but the whimsy of your story gives way later on to a level of blunt, apparent violence and sadness that may at first seems out of place in a Wes Anderson film. Death and deception and war and genocide are all in play here, and the gradual addition of these elements and their movement toward the forefront of the story is jarring at first. But Anderson’s films have always held a subtle edge of darkness, all the way back to Bottle Rocket. This has often led to the criticism of Anderson’s style as being twee, precious, or discordant, and yet you make a compelling argument for the exercise of this style in the face of these criticisms and the story itself.
This isn’t to draw attention away from the actual story outside of this meta-textual reading. Working within the very specific and very vivid world that he has created, Anderson forges a series of complicated and engaging relationships. It is to the credit of the actors that even those who have only minimal screen time somehow form a lasting impression that reverberates through the film, creating a kind of harmonic resonance that builds throughout the entirety of your runtime. It all reaches a crescendo of both character and theme in the final moments, the sort of fevered and gracious ending to which most films can only hollowly aspire.
Your whole tale contains such a joyous energy, a celebratory verve for all of the strangeness and oddity in your world. It’s an infectious cocktail, and sustains a level of engagement and humor that seems almost impossible. Even the best of films can sometimes experience a kind of lull, and yet despite the labyrinthine plot and the interplay between three different time periods, you zip along with a pace and wit that defies logic. You blend knowing, winking jokes that are silently savored with broad, slapstick acts that elicit hearty guffaws and near manic laughter.
There’s so much of you to love, and just like Moonrise Kingdom you’ve managed to stay with me and remain foremost in my mind. There is a wellspring of concepts to mull over, and a series of scenes to look at with new eyes following your ending. You open up like a grand clockwork mechanism, revealing an overt whole that is spectacular to behold, while also containing multitudes of smaller gears and triggers which captivate one’s attention and imagination.
I was looking forward to you for quite some time and had the highest of expectations, and you not only delivered on them but gave so much more than I had expected. In that way, you are just like your protagonists, knowing what I was looking for even beyond what I knew to articulate. In this never-ending winter of disappointments and mediocre near-successes, I am grateful beyond words.
I’ll see you next season,
Brian J. Roan