In review: “The Grand Budapest Hotel”

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There are few filmmakers who can consistently project the kind of love for their craft that Wes Anderson does. Even in his less revered films (The Life Aquatic, The Darjeeling Limited) there is the kind of radiant warmth and passion that most directors only have for their magnum opuses, and this all holds true for The Grand Budapest Hotel, a delightfully enthusiastic work that celebrates the comedic crime caper while at the same time being a love letter towards the great stories we all have to tell.

While the film is about a girl on a park bench reading a book of an author recounting a story told to him by an older version of the former lobby boy who went through a grand adventure with Gustave H., it is far from narratively complicated. It primarily concerns the grand adventure, yet the layered framing gives the film a heart to accompany the hijinks. The way it shows the immortality given to stories by the way they are passed on from person to person is simply wonderful. It certainly made me reflect on all those little tales I’ve experienced in my life and it could very well make you do the same.

But is the story itself up to the challenge of upholding this goal? Very much so. While not quite as laugh-out-loud funny as the trailer indicates, there are few moments where the silliness of everyone’s immense and, sometimes murderous, endeavours to obtain a painting won’t put a smile on your face. This is helped especially by a perfect cast that never misses a beat. While it is impressive that Tony Revolori is able to hold his own amidst a crowd of great actors in his first film as straight-man lobby boy Zero Moustafa, the real standout is Willem Defoe as a Jaws-like bodyguard, able to maintain a poise that is both menacing and hilarious.

The film’s poise is nothing to disregard, either. Anderson has always been skilled with aesthetics, but this film in particular feels downright Kubrick-esque in its efficient and lively use of visual language. It could potentially be distracting for some viewers but it is all entirely necessary. There is not a single shot or camera movement that is unnecessary or just trying to show off, as it briskly establishes the story and emotional beats while also allowing the audience to enjoy the beautifully solid colors and light-hearted sophistication that Anderson always brings to the forefront. The music also accompanies these visuals well, and feels very ‘classic movie’ in how well it accentuates the actions onscreen, such as when the music plays in time with creaks from a swaying gondola.

The only real complaint that could be said about the film is that the ‘transference of story’ theme feels removed from much of the film. While it is there in an underlying way, it can feel distant and unconnected to the main plotline because of the long stretches between the dialogues of the older Zero and the young author which give the story its context and meaning. This results in the theme feeling more tangential to the events of the film rather than central, which is a bit disappointing. Still, the meaning is there so it’s not a huge complaint, it just would have been beneficial if it had been more consistently prominent.

Unless Anderson’s films instinctively bug you, The Grand Budapest Hotel comes heartily recommended to those looking for a charming, witty, and purposeful time at the theatre during these hectic final days of school.

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