Wes Anderson has a lot of cool friends. They manage to pop up in quirky yet meaningful roles in many of his films: Jason Schwartzman as the precocious Max Fischer in Rushmore, Owen Wilson as the freewheeling Eli Cash in The Royal Tenenbaums, Bill Murray as a different oddball in all of them.
Those three, along with a ton of other familiar faces, appear in Anderson's latest, The Grand Budapest Hotel. And while it's one of Anderson's most delightfully whimsical and kinetic films, it's also the one where his unique power for characterization suffers the most.
Well, that's not entirely true -- the star certainly lives up to the billing. Ralph Fiennes plays M. Gustave, the dapper concierge of the titular Grand Budapest Hotel, an opulent, Candyland-style location located on top of a mountain in the fictionalized central European nation Zubrowka.
Gustave runs the place with the same formalized exactitude with which Anderson makes his films. He's a stern taskmaster and perfectionist, as he shows when he interrogates young lobby boy Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori) with a taut barrage of interview questions.
But not only is he compassionate and loyal -- he has his vices: micro-management (self-evident), swearing (he does so infrequently, but hilariously), and bedding the old, rich ladies who frequent his hotel (...).
One of these lucky women, the wrinkly Madame D. (Tilda Swinton) dies and leaves Gustave a priceless painting, which becomes the crux of a scandal between him, the police, and Madame D.'s crazy son Dmitri (Adrien Brody). Anderson's story spans countries and decades, as the story is retold to an author (Jude Law) by the older Zero (F. Murray Abraham), who owns the hotel years later.
The bond between Zero and Gustave is evident, yet Zero always seems like more of a bystander than an active participant in the film's action. He falls in love with a baker played by Saoirse Ronan, yet they are nowhere near as endearing as the kids in Moonrise Kingdom. In fact, aside from Willem Dafoe's crazy henchman, many of the characters either don't stick out (e.g. the ones played by Harvey Keitel, Jeff Goldblum and Edward Norton) or they aren't given nearly enough screen time to cast a deep enough impression (e.g. Murray, Wilson and Schwartzmann, who each spend less than two minutes on screen).
But it's a Wes Anderson movie, so it's fun and it looks pretty. Everyone still speaks carefully and walks at right angles.
Yet who would have thought that getting Anderson to loosen up might not be the best idea?
Rated R for language, some sexual content, and violence.
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