To alter a phrase from Twain — who probably won’t mind because he’s dead — writer/ director Wes Anderson repeated history until he figured out how to rhyme. Barring a brief foray into stop-motion animation, Anderson’s oeuvre for the last decade redundantly hit the same notes with the same instruments, producing repetitive, quirky music that hipsters totally liked before you did. Until now.
To alter a phrase from Batman — who probably won’t mind because he’s not real —The Grand Budapest Hotel is the movie audiences deserve and the one Anderson needed. The film fuses his signature style, his familiar players and his impeccably symmetrical cinematography with something new. Okay, “new-ish” but that’s still an improvement. Because the events are set in the past and are technically a retelling of a retelling of crazy happenings, the chasm that typically exists between how Anderson sees reality and how reality really is becomes irrelevant.
Essentially, The Grand Budapest Hotel is a wild caper, littered with macabre humor, more murder than one would anticipate (including severed heads and fingers) and one hell of a lead performance. The performer who hella delivered is Ralph Fiennes, who carves out a divinely unique character, named Gustave. He is a charming rakish fop with a bizarre moral code and foul mouth. Set in the 1930s, things begin to unravel for Gustave, a legendary concierge, when an elderly, wealthy, blonde female hotel guest he routinely beds dies under suspicious circumstances. Because of this, Gustave and his side kick/lobby boy, Zero (Tony Revolori), are thrust in increasingly madcap situations.
The catalyst for the ongoing shenanigans is the will of the deceased: Madame D (Tilda Swinton). Much to the rage of her vile son Dmitri (Adrien Brody) and his murderous henchman, Jopling (Willem Dafoe), she leaves a priceless painting to her lover Gustave. Gustave is whisked in and out of prison and is on the run from a pseudo-gestapo officer, Henckels (Edward Norton). All the while, Zero pines for his lady love and rad pastry chef, Agatha (Saorise Ronan), and tries to help his fugitive mentor while keeping order at the hotel they both love.
The Grand Budapest Hotel takes place in the “Republic of Zubrowka,” which some of you know doesn’t exist. This leads to the theory that all of Anderson’s films take place in an alternate universe where Zubrowka is on the map and everyone dresses like an Arcade Fire album cover. Not only does the setting free Anderson from the shackles of known reality, but it allows him to offer a fresh thematic thesis (for him anyway): the art of storytelling is insanity and lies littered with truths stolen from others.
The Grand Budapest Hotel is easily Anderson’s best (live-action) film since The Royal Tenenbaums. It proves he can leverage his signature style to tell new stories, to make fresh content that resembles his previous work without ripping himself off. Anderson has always had a loyal cadre of vocal, animated supporters singing his praises.
For once, it feels nice to join them.