Movie Review: The Grand Budapest Hotel

By Stephen Rebello

<p>Wes Anderson's newest film may be his best movie in years.<br></p>

Director: Wes Anderson

Rating: R

Studio: American Empirical Pictures

Stars: Ralph Fiennes, F. Murray Abraham, Edward Norton

Heart, magic, adventure, laughs, whimsy—writer-director Wes Anderson’s newest has all of them and more. Deliriously gorgeous to look at and arguably his best film in years, the movie has been concocted by Anderson (and Hugo Guinness) as a fablelike creation, with loving nods to such filmmakers as Max Ophüls and Ernst Lubitsch, as well as great 20th century Viennese novelist and short story writer Stefan Zweig, whose novella inspired an Ophüls-directed masterwork, Letter from an Unknown Woman.

There’s a nesting doll quality to the structure of The Grand Budapest Hotel which begins in 1985 with a famed author (voiced by Tom Wilkinson and portrayed on screen by Jude Law) recalling a memorable 1968 stay at the now-fading empress of hotels. There, we encounter its aging and elegant owner (F. Murray Abraham), who in turn regales Law with tales from the hotel’s swank, swirling, wedding cake–like peak of perfection over 30 years earlier. We meet the hotelier’s much younger self, a new lobby boy and bellhop (a droll, deadpan Tony Revolori) who gets swept up in the charismatic thrall of the hotel’s spit-and-polish manager, Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes, never funnier, lighter nor more delightful).

When Fiennes is bequeathed a priceless painting by the elderly Madame D. (Tilda Swinton), one of his many lovers, the film kicks into very high gear with a cascade of intrigue, chases, door-slamming farce, breathless escapes and, yes, a longing for a bygone era of civility, class, style, decorum and heroism. 

The Grand Budapest Hotel is clearly the brainchild of an undisputedly unique, one-of-a-kind 21st century auteur. It’s also an endlessly entertaining work of immense charm and wonder, set-designed and color-controlled to within an inch of its life and lustrously shot by Robert Yeoman in three different aspect ratios. The movie is also a treat to listen to thanks to wry dialogue perfectly punctuated by Alexandre Desplat’s spritely, winking score.

In the spirit of “Too much of a good thing can be wonderful,” this Esterhazy Torte of a film is enhanced by enjoyable pop-up appearances by Anderson regulars as well as new-to-the-party additions including Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Saoirse Ronan, Jeff Goldblum and Léa Seydoux. Anderson’s rich confection may not be to everyone’s taste, but for those who succumb, his The Grand Budapest Hotel is a frothy, impossibly beautiful, nostalgia-soaked and resonant dream from which you almost never want to wake.


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