Wes Anderson’s movies have always been shaggy dog stories. From his debut in 1994 with Bottle Rocket, a wacky tale of a heist gone wrong, to Moonrise Kingdom, his 2012 saga of young lovers on a mad dash to escape a hypocritical society, Anderson has delighted in crafting insanely intricate stories filled with absurdist humor. Set in ever more elaborate universes of Anderson’s own creation, his best films penetrate countless layers to uncover a powerful core of emotions and ideas.
Anderson’s latest, The Grand Budapest Hotel, is his most fantastically complicated work to date. While it may lack the emotional depth of his strongest films, Moonrise Kingdom and Rushmore, this candy-colored comic confection is his most purely entertaining film.
High in the mountains of the fictional European nation of Zubrowka (which is vaguely modeled on Hungary) stands the Grand Budapest, a luxury hotel famed for its beauty, elegance and service. Anderson first introduces viewers to the hotel in the Communist-era when it has become shabby and rundown. When a young writer (Jude Law) crosses paths with the hotel’s mysterious owner, Zero Mustafa (F. Murray Abraham), the elderly owner agrees to recount how the Grand Budapest came into his possession.
His story transports viewers to the heyday of the hotel between the wars when young Zero (Tony Revolori) was a humble Lobby Boy under the command of the legendary Concierge Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes). Gustave is sophisticated, urbane and completely dedicated to the hotel. He diligently tends to every possible detail of his guests’ desires, including the sexual and emotional needs of his female guests. When one of his most beloved visitors, Madame D (Tilda Swinton) dies, she rewards Gustave’s devotion by leaving him her most valuable possession, a priceless Renaissance painting. However, her generous bequest places him squarely in the crosshairs of her powerful and malevolent family, especially the ruthless Dmitri (Adrien Brody) and his thoroughly evil servant Jopling (Willem Dafoe). This pair will stop at nothing to recover the painting (and perhaps cover up their role in the death of Madame D.) Gustave and Zero soon find themselves on a madcap adventure as they try to uncover the truth while avoiding both the authorities and the murderous Jopling.
The Grand Budapest Hotel has an almost absurdly all-star cast that also includes Jeff Goldblum, Bill Murray, Saoirse Ronan, Edward Norton, Harvey Keitel, Jason Schwartzman, Tom Wilkinson, Owen Wilson, Bob Balaban and Mathieu Amalric. However, Ralph Fiennes towers over all of them with his brilliant performance as Gustave, an utterly charming character whose impeccable behavior and personal style are unchanged whether he is in a luxury hotel or a dank prison. The Grand Budapest Hotel is Anderson’s most lighthearted work, but it’s anchored by a bittersweet sadness over the passing of the age embodied by Gustave—an oasis of sophistication and taste that was about to be wiped away by a tidal wave of war and politics.