With The Grand Budapest Hotel, Wes Anderson has finally made his style seem completely natural. He also seems to be eager to mock himself and his own films. Every shot of Hotel is filled with information and subtle jokes. Still others contain pieces that do not become relevant until the last ten minutes. But it all means something.
Hotel is also the purest fantasy Anderson has created. The plot essentially combines a murder mystery and an art heist involving a dead duchess and a painting titled “Boy With Apple.” It also involves a hotel that has fallen into disrepair and is not much longer for this world – but back in the good old days, it was the place for upper class guests. Yet there are extra levels to this simple setting. The framing device is that the film is based on the writings of the fictional Republic of Zubrowska’s favorite author, and the hotel one of the crowning jewels of the nation before the “war.” Every character discusses the film in terms of this setting, including discussing fictional currency and talking about the famous families of the nation. It works better than any other Anderson film because his characters had to pretend that they were grounded in our reality. I don’t need to describe the performances here (they’re the same as any other performance) but they worked more because the actors were completely free from any constraint.
I’m not sure if this is my favorite Wes Anderson film, but it is absolutely his best.
One of the best things about this film is the fact that people will need to see it at least twice if they hope to understand all the jokes. One thing I noticed was that the symbol for the Crossed Keys – a secret society made up of the best concierges in the world – is introduced long before it has any meaning. Zero (the lobby boy) has a mustache that is only later revealed to be penciled on – one that he does not wear when he ages into F. Murray Abraham. And attempt to fake maturity, maybe? The film never says.
The point is that nothing is advertised as a joke. It depends on people paying attention.
But those punchlines are trivial except to the most devout audience. The Grand Budapest Hotel works because of its characters and their love of each other. Most people have already focused on Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes) as the breakout character. And he undoubtedly is because he is so mysterious while being so extroverted. Yes, there are scenes of him seducing older women and he has an obsession with wearing perfume. But we never find out why. So what? He lives his life exactly as he wants to and his background is not the point.
What is the point is how he treats his trusted Lobby Boy and his love Agatha (Saoirse Ronan). Now, Moonrise Kingdom was a better examination of prepubescent love. But Hotel is a greater exploration of how those relationships affect us for the rest of our lives. In fact, Hotel could be a man’s fantasy of the life he wished he lived as a young boy – full of adventure, villains, and the father that had been taken from him. Anderson’s films are all about the strange ways that people deal with their most basic emotions.
It’s hard for me to review films like this because people can guess what they will be like. And they would be right. Of course, when a director’s films can be described with only his name, then he has accomplished something. I sometimes get disappointed that Anderson does not try to challenge himself. But why should he when his style fits the subject matter? His characters need to be absurd to deal with the weird situations. But the weirder they are, the more familiar they are.
Anderson has always had fans, but many people felt his movies were too weird to ever achieve mainstream success. But now an Anderson film has become something to celebrate amongst audiences everywhere. But Anderson has not really changed. We have caught up with him. How does something like that happen? Hotel helps answer that question. His characters are separate from our world. But the stranger they are, the more familiar they become. Hotel’s themes of love, aging, and longing for the good old days are something that many, many films have examined. But Anderson seems to be the only person to make them appear fresh and exciting – and hilarious.