It’s almost easy to forget that Wes Anderson makes films. Such is the cult that has grown around him over the years, he feels more like a brand beloved of hipsters such as American Apparel or Apple Macs. Just by uttering his name a person has given an insight into their adopted subculture. Numerous parodies have been dimwittily prepared and his signature visual style has been gentrified by a zillion twee graphic designers. Which all distracts from the fact that Wes Anderson does actually make funny, literate and often moving films.
The Grand Budapest Hotel, his latest film, feels like a culmination of all Anderson has been working towards in his career. It marries the the quirkiness and pathos of his earlier work with his recent dabbling with animation, as seen in The Fantastic Mr Fox. If some viewers felt his previous films were overkill, then they would be advised to cross the road for this one. The layered narrative essentially follows the exploits of M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), the hotel concierge, and his trusty protege Zero (Tony Revolori). Set between the world wars, Gustave oversees the running of the majestic ship while ‘seeing’ to the richer female clientele.
One such client, Madame D., (Tilda Swinton) is found brutally offed, and when Gustave is left with her invaluable ‘Boy with Apple’ painting, both her son Dmitri (Adrien Brody) and the police begin to suspect the hapless concierge of foul play. Gustave and his lobby boy Zero have to flee in order to clear his name, by which time the film descends into somewhat of a chase movie. All the typical Anderson staples are here; the intricate, gaudy mise en scene, the literary references, the witty wordplay and the slapstick flourishes. There is a greater sense of action here though, veering into the cartoonish.
Fiennes is a rather excellent comic creation, embodying both the eloquent workaholic in Gustave but also a childish goofiness. Newcomer Revolori is appropriately boyish and earnest, while William Defoe and Brody are deliciously devilish as the baddies in pursuit. Unfortunately a couple of actors are wasted in somewhat dull roles, like Ed Norton and Bill Murray. The script, loosely based on Stefan Zweig’s writings, is one of Anderson’s wittiest and funniest for a while. I can’t remember many laughs from Moonrise Kingdom, but this latest one definitely had the audience tittering into their craft beers.
The film gets off onto a very good, if slightly convoluted, start. The hotel itself has been so beautifully designed that you wonder if Anderson would have been better off making another of Roald Dahl’s books, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The hotel is part swank hotel, part toy shop, an intricate creation that Jacques Tati, surely one of Anderson’s greatest influences, would have been impressed with. The world is a joy to be in, so when Anderson takes us out of it and into the outside world does the film begin to flag. Particularly the 2nd half of the film begins to test the audience’s patience, as the jokes become less pronounced and the chase becomes bogged down in Anderson’s own elaborate tangents.
Still, this is one of Anderson’s best films in a while. Whereas some of his more recent films felt more subdued and perhaps even navel gazing, there is a sense of fun running through The Grand Budapest Hotel, even if it does turn sickly at points. If I were to nostalgically yearn for anything from Wes Anderson, it would be a sense of space. Looking back at his undeniably superior works Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums, there was a looseness about them that let the inventive visuals and eccentric characters breathe. Perhaps for his next film, less is more.