An enormous hotel perched at the top of a mountain, a grand old European country on the cusp of war, headlines sprawled across the local broadsheet, the one with the charming moniker of the Trans-Alpine Yodel: Wes Anderson’s latest is a truffle of pageantry which barters the pathos intrinsic to his previous work (Moonrise Kingdom, The Royal Tenenbaums, even Fantastic Mr. Fox which is this films closest analogue in the auteur’s growing oeuvre) for the overstuffed frippery and copious quirk that his critics tend to use as a bludgeon when fail to see the trees for the forest. Like Mendl’s chocolates so often on display in The Grand Budapest Hotel, everything is elaborately packaged and constructed out of tastefully ostentatious pastel, and contains far more empty calories than actual nourishment, but no matter, they are ‘the finest.’
The film is more ephemeral than anything the director has ever done; it is that murder-mystery party you and your pals dress up for in a suburban living room as a convoluted excuse to hang out without the bother of attempting any kind of meaningful conversation. All that being said, the The Grand Budapest Hotel is also effervescent, pitch perfect in its pacing, celebratory in its bursts of vulgarity, and hilarious with its mannered turns of phrase. It would be dishonest, and a tad uncharitable of me to deny that I had an absolute buzz on during its fleet 100 minutes and laughed out loud far more time than any comedy made in the past 15 years.
Gustav H. is said to be the most perfumed man in Europe and is gainfully employed as the fussy head concierge at the eponymous Grand Budapest – a hotel situated near the painted backdrop of Carpathian peaks in Hungary, accessible by funicular. Ralph Fiennes becomes thoroughly immersed in the comedy and pomp of this mythic character, and plays the type of control freak that director Wes Anderson has self-deprecated himself in a series of Visa advertisements from a few years ago. Gustav H. glides, perhaps even plows, through the high ceilinged lobby of the GBH making quippy criticism and snappy correction of the aesthetic choices of the staff, elaborating on proper posture and behaviour, and in confident command on how the entire hotel-machine is run; this without so much as getting winded. He is a man on a beer budget with champagne taste who has a habit of discreetly wooing the elderly rich and royal guests, perhaps as a way to ‘inherit’ his way out of his class-situation. One of these matrons, Madame D., is played by Tilda Swinton, sporting impeccable old-age make-up to bring her up to an octogenarian state, who promptly kicks the bucket and leaves a large fortune and an even larger number of heirs (and estate staff) looking for what is theirs. Madam D.’s last will and testament consist of a heaping pile of scraps of paper that is cumbersomely carted in by her lawyer (Jeff Goldblum with notable spectacles, wondrous facial hair sitting at a desk made entirely from antlers), that will take ages to disentangle, but her top priority, the last thing she wrote was to gift a priceless painting (“Boy with Apple”) to Gustav H. much to the chagrin of Madame’s eldest son, Adrien Brody; here repurposing his Salvador Dali caricature to great effect as a blustering, rather ineffectual villain.
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