Should You Check Into “Grand Budapest Hotel”?
It’s been a while since I’ve really enjoyed a Wes Anderson film. I loved his first two efforts, Bottle Rocket and Rushmore, but since then, his movies seem to have grown increasingly twee and pleased with themselves—with the exception of his 2009 stop-motion cartoon The Fantastic Mr. Fox, which lived up to its titular adjective. So I went into his latest, The Grand Budapest Hotel, with my expectations lowered. And I’m pleased to report that it, too, lives up to its billing: It’s a grand entertainment.
What I realized watching TGBH is that Mr. Fox was not, in fact, an exception: Anderson has become a master cartoonist. His movies are art-directed within an inch of their lives: Every detail of every image is so carefully composed, he might as well have drawn them with his own hand. The story takes place in the fictional Eastern European country of Zubrowka between the first and second World Wars, but make no mistake: It’s all happening in (Wes) Andersonville.
He plays with the size of his canvas this time, as the Russian nesting-doll-esque story-within-a-story-within-a-story is shot in three different aspect ratios, with the vast majority of the narrative told in the narrowest frame. And some of the scenes, like an exhilarating chase on skiis, have a Looney Tunes-like breakneck pace.
Most of all, though, Anderson traffics in cartoonish characters, and they’re brought to vivid life by his most dizzying ensemble yet: a mixture of regular members of his repertory company (Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Edward Norton), British acting royalty (Ralph Fiennes, Tom Wilkinson) and masterful character actors who have been underutilized on screen in recent years (Harvey Keitel, Jeff Goldblum, Willem Dafoe). Anderson’s weak spot, as usual, is his female characters: Tilda Swinton, in grotesque old-age makeup, doesn’t survive long, and Saiorse Ronan serves only as an object of adoration for impressive newcomer Tony Revolori as lobby boy Zero Moustafa, played in old age by the great F. Murray Abraham.
It’s all very silly, as a good cartoon should be, and undeniably fun. Which explains why it made a whopping $800,000 on only four screens in its opening weekend. In its own R-rated way (and this is Anderson’s most grownup film ever in terms of sex and violence), it’s every bit as satisfyingly animated as Frozen or The LEGO Movie.