MRR Review: "The Grand Budapest Hotel"

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The adventures of Gustave H, a legendary concierge at a famous European hotel between the wars, and Zero Moustafa, the lobby boy who becomes his most trusted friend.
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Rating: R
Length: 99 minutes
Release Date: March 7, 2014
Directed by: Wes Anderson
Genre: Comedy / Drama

"The Grand Budapest Hotel" is the much-anticipated release from director Wes Anderson of The Royal Tennenbaums fame. The movie features an all-star ensemble that includes Ralph Fiennes, Edward Norton, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Jude Law, Bill Murray and Tilda Swinton. The story centers on the tale of how the once grand and bustling but now nearly deserted and dilapidated Grand Budapest Hotel in the fictional Eastern European nation of Zubrowka came to be passed from a wealthy widow to a lobby boy named Gustave and ultimately to a former lobby boy named Zero.

Anderson is no stranger to the concept of an ensemble cast. He is very adept at ensuring that no matter how big the character roster is, no one is over- or under-utilized. Everyone is important to the story. "The Grand Budapest Hotel" proves it is no exception to this extraordinary talent. Anderson wastes no time in setting the tone and in assigning characters flavor through dress, dialogue and even individual tics and idiosyncrasies. The movie moves swiftly in vignette style from scenario to scenario as the audience learns the fantastic circumstances that elevate Zero from lobby boy to criminal accomplice to heir. All of this is done while weaving a tale of war and survival with a nostalgic feel that, like many of Anderson's other films, is timeless in its nature. Of no small importance is Zero's predecessor and friend Gustave, with whom Zero embarks on many of his adventures. At some point, Gustave's story becomes Zero's story, yet it is impossible for the audience to determine when one has ended and the other has begun.

Anderson is particularly talented at crisscrossing and layering plots and subplots in a way that makes it impossible for the viewer to imagine even one element without the other. Not only does Anderson do this seamlessly in "The Grand Budapest Hotel," he tells a story within a fantastic story without crossing a line into hokey as the tale leaps backward through time to tell the story of Gustave, the person from whom Zero inherited The Grand Budapest, and his quest to overcome being framed for murder by a bitter family and claim what is rightfully his. The story journeys beyond The Grand Budapest and into the European countryside. The circle of characters steadily expands, and Gustave's story is carefully woven with Zero's as well as the former and now dead owner of The Grand Budapest who has left the hotel to Gustave.

As with its critically acclaimed predecessor, "The Royal Tennenbaums," the humor is often subtle and even dark. What fans of Anderson understand very well is that viewers should expect to find themselves invested in characters that they do not particularly like. Anderson has a tendency to create personalities that are shady, questionable and even despicable in their nature. Surprisingly, those very negative qualities are what makes them so enjoyable. There are often undercurrents to conversations that require some level of intellectual engagement. An appreciation for quirky characters that tend to embrace values just slightly left of deviant is also necessary. Says Gustave in a line typical of the dialogue throughout the movie, "You're looking so well, darling. You really are. I don't know what sort of cream they've put on you down at the morgue, but I want some." When Gustave later confesses to have been a lover of the old woman, Zero mentions that she was in her mid-80s. "I've had older," Gustave confesses.

For all of the emphasis placed on the story of Gustave and Zero, "The Grand Budapest Hotel" is also a romance. Zero's appreciation of his wife Agatha is evident from their first meeting. She is smart, forward and willing to do what Gustave and Zero cannot. Yet, the extent of Zero's dedication to her remains a point of intrigue until the end of the movie, when the viewer learns just how much Agatha meant to Gustave.

Essentially, everything comes full circle by beginning and ending with the Grand Budapest. Through the disappearance of Zero after his story, the movie succeeds in making the plot ultimately what the title infers: the hotel itself. In the grand scheme, "The Grand Budapest Hotel" is somewhat of a synecdoche for Eastern Europe in general. Although it has faced tough economic times as the grand families of Europe and their treasures have died off or lost their relevance, it has remained regal in a way that its people, though unique and often puzzling to the rest of the world, maintain a captivating mystique. This is essentially why "The Grand Budapest Hotel" is enjoyable and endearing.

Rating: 4 out of 5