‘I’ ON CULTURE
If you want to see a movie that is different from almost anything else coming out these days, take in The Grand Budapest Hotel, the latest Wes Anderson film. It is a weird, strange, zany comedy with plenty of style, something we seldom get anymore. In an era of superheroes and overheated, sexualized romances, a movie that seems to avoid real feelings while drowning us in a complex, funny scheme, really stands out.
The movie begins with a famous author (Tom Wilkinson) writing about his meeting years earlier (the young author is played by Jude Law) with elderly and very wealthy Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham) in the once-famous, now decrepit Grand Budapest Hotel. Zero tells him how he acquired the hotel, and the story then focuses on Zero’s mentor, concierge Monsieur Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes), a demanding hotel leader who, as part of his job, romances elderly ladies. One of them, Madame D. (an incredibly cosmetically aged Tilda Swinton), dies suddenly and leaves Gustave a priceless painting. Her family objects, particularly her nasty son Dmitri (Adrien Brody), who sends his scary minion (Willem Dafoe) and the police after Gustave.
Compounding all of this, the imaginary nation they are in is going to war with an imaginary neighbor. The complications are many: the family’s attorney Deputy Kovacs (Jeff Goldblum) is a stickler for legal procedure; the police captain in charge (Edward Norton) was treated very nicely by the concierge as a young boy when he visited the hotel with his parents; convicts in the prison that Gustave is tossed in are somehow also gentlemen, providing a nice turn for Ludwig (Harvey Keitel) in one of the film’s daffier moments.
The real center of the film is the relationship between Gustave and the young Zero (Tony Revolori), who is a “lobby boy,” working the hotel to unobtrusively help the guests. Their relationship changes and grows as the older man gradually realizes that the boy is in many ways his brother. Zero becomes enamored with Agatha (Saiorse Ronan), a not-very-pretty young baker who is both brave and loving. She provides the tools used by the convicts to escape their prison. They are the kind of tiny ones we give to young children, creating great laughs by baking them into fancy pastries.
Despite the lighthearted elements, there are examples of real feelings. Gustave twice stands up for Zero while being questioned by nasty soldiers, at great risk to his own life. In one delightful scene, Gustave calls on his peers in his society of concierges, all of whom drop major tasks off with their lobby boys to provide assistance. It is great fun for many of us in the audience, as several of them are quite recognizable. But Anderson lets very little get in the way of fun, since nothing brings as many laughs as dead bodies, particularly those in pieces.
The performances are exceptionally good. Fiennes gives a brilliant portrayal of a man who lives for all good things, a man who is incredibly superficial, while still behaving with great honor. Revolori manages to match him, although he is the essential straight man for the comedy. His sincerity holds the film together.
Anderson is a favorite director for many actors, many of whom took on small parts. Brody obviously had great fun portraying the bad guy. Brushing back his handlebar mustache like an old-time villain, he ensured that he would get no sympathy at all. Norton was delightfully addled, and Keitel’s turn as the tough convict who befriends Gustave was a highlight.
Anderson, as noted above, eschews real feelings. Everything is pushed to be light. Convicts get along with Gustave as he moves among them, bringing mush in exactly the same mode he would have arranged pheasant at the hotel. Gustave has a penchant for light-headed blondes who are all surface, as he pretends to be. But we can see the real feelings under the skin.
The movie was great fun. Our group all enjoyed it enormously. In an era where style is ignored, this is a great screwball comedy. Take a break from the blockbusters and try it out.