This film both was and was not what I expected. My limited experience with Wes Anderson has shown me that he has a distinctive style. His movies can be odd and eccentric and are not for everyone. He is well respected within the world of film and many people are huge fans of him and his work. Being so established in Hollywood can have an interesting effect during awards season – a movie that, if done by an unknown director, may not have made it onto the list of Oscar nominees on its own can find itself there because its director is an industry veteran.
To me, The Grand Budapest Hotel finds its strength in characters. It has an all star cast: Ralph Fiennes plays an easily dislikable M. Gustave in a very endearing way, emphasizing his charm where his questionable morality could have overshadowed; Tony Revolori is lovable as Zero, the new Lobby Boy under M. Gustave who quickly idolizes the older man; Saoirse Ronan is charming and strong as Agatha; Willem Dafoe is the perfect combination of threatening and comedic as the villain Jopling; and Adrien Brody is the entitled son of Madam D (played by Tilda Swinton) Dmitri. Beyond that, there are enjoyable appearances from Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Jude Law, Edward Norton, Jason Schwartzman and Tom Wilkinson. Topping the list of great performances is Fiennes as M. Gustave. It would be easy to dislike this man: he woos every female who stays at his hotel, luring them into his bed and leading them to believe they are special to him, while later ushering them away as mere customers. He takes what he wants from them. At the same time, Fiennes’ portrayal brings more depth to the character, making us like him, not only because of his charm but also because on some level he seems to convincingly care for some of these women. He may have the gall to flirt with Agatha in front of her boyfriend Zero, but he is able to find the respect for their relationship to leave her alone and even officiate their marriage. And he does seem in some way to truly care for Madam D, despite their relationship causing so much trouble.
The second aspect of the film that I enjoyed was the way in which it was shot. The camera angles and effects added a great deal of character. Particular shots and cuts were used to heighten the playfulness and comedy of the film and this impressed me throughout.
Where I felt the story fell flat was in the story itself and its organization throughout the film. The story is fine: a luxury hotel concierge has a close relationship with an older woman who visits annually; she passes away and he goes to pay his respects, only to be met with anger and disapproval from the immediate family; he is sent to prison for her murder, escapes, and is finally redeemed as he finds her last will, leaving everything to him. It’s not a great story, but it is good enough. Watching it throughout the film, however, gets a little haphazard. I felt it jumped around quite a bit and while I was able to follow all of the little plot pieces, they were not smoothly put together. Whether or not this was intentional, I’m not convinced it was an asset to the movie.
In general, I think it is a good movie and I don’t regret watching it – it was entertaining and I found myself chuckling quite a bit. At the same time, I’m not sure I would peg it for one of the best movies of 2014 and, therefore, wouldn’t pick it to be an Oscar winner unless it is for acting. I don’t want this review to deter people from seeing it because I do think it’s a worthwhile movie, but there are definitely some improvements that could have been made.