Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Year: 2014
Director: Wes Anderson
Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Saoirse Ronan, Tilda Swinton, Jude Law, F Murray Abraham, Jeff Goldblum, Edward Norton

Plot: This film follows the adventures of M. Gustave, the concierge of The Grand Budapest Hotel and his loyal prodigy Zero, the hotel's lobby boy.

Review: This is actually my first attempt at watching a Wes Anderson film, I did it due to good word of mouth. Because of that, I probably didn't get it as much as most of his fans do. But to his credit, The Grand Budapest Hotel is pretty good.

The film is set in 1932 in the fictional land of Zubrowka, in between the world wars. The Grand Budapest Hotel is a beautiful place run by M. Gustave, who is efficient at his work. On the side, he beds rich old women. The new lobby boy, Zero becomes his prodigy and learns the ropes from him on taking care of the hotel. One day, Madame D, one of Gustave's interests, dies and bequeaths to him a valuable painting, much to the ire of her son Dmitri. Soon after, Gustave is accused of murdering Madame D and imprisoned. Zero helps him escape and prove his innocence.

If there's one thing I love about this film is the production design. Anderson and his team made the film colorful and bright and at the same time very retro, which is no easy feat. The sight of the hotel near the cliff with a funicular train attached makes it look like a huge cake, or maybe even a three dimensional picture from a book. In short, it looks magnificent.

The film's other positives are the plot and great cast. The plot is quite easy to follow and never drags, in fact it moves really fast. It does flip many times over in the middle third of the film, but nothing too difficult to fathom. The punchlines are not laugh out loud funny, but there are quite a few moments when you can't help but chuckle and admire Anderson's sharp instinct to nail the joke right there.

Casting wise, Ralph Fiennes and young newcomer Tony Revolori make a great team of master and student in Gustave and Zero. Fiennes is sharp, charming and spot on with deadpan humor, which is well contrasted by Revolori's naive and well meaning lobby boy. Adrien Brody makes a good villain in Dmitri, balancing the act of being bad and not entirely hateful quite well. Willem Dafoe is awesome as Dmitri's right hand man Jopling, he's perfect actually. It's also nice to see Jeff Goldblum again after a long time as Madame D's lawyer, nailing the part too. The rest of the cast, such as Jude Law, F Murray Abraham, Lea Seydoux and Saoirse Ronan also perform up to expectations, even though they don't have that much screen time.

Now, while the cast is really spot on, some of the choices seem rather strange. Why would Anderson put his frequent collaborators such as Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman and Owen Wilson in such insignificant roles? I understand that these are probably just cameos, but Wilson had only two scenes and it was so basic, anyone else could have done it. And overall I felt like I was an outsider trying to enjoy something I wasn't used to. Admittedly I'm not an Anderson fan, so maybe I need to brush up on his work.

But I know good work when I see it, and for my money's worth, The Grand Budapest Hotel is worth checking out. It's not necessarily fun all the time, but it's never dull. (3.5/5)

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