As I sat in the theater watching The Grand Budapest Hotel, I heard loud and annoyed comments in the audience: “this is ridiculous!” and “next time, I’m letting you choose the movie!” one said to another. I have been a frequent movie goer for over 30 years and cannot recall ever hearing such disappointed comments. That being the case, everyone is entitled to an opinion.
But as one who always welcomes story telling in all forms-movies, literature, and even paintings, The Grand Budapest Hotel is a remarkable accomplishment. It is an evolved approach to story telling, a transcending style that subliminally combines movies, literature, and paintings.
To briefly sum what is otherwise a complicated story, it is about the flashbacks of a hotel owner named Zero. He narrates how he first started as a lobby boy during the hotels more extravagant times. He recounts of his servile days and the pedantic masterful concierge he reported to. Their relationship was to be more of a teacher and apprentice but in an underlying way, it seemed more like master and servant. Together they travel on an adventure, after they flee with a painting that they are accused of not owning.
The film is primarily attractive to look at. The hotel itself is an art work of vintage and classic design that was characteristic of the remembered times (1932). Each scene is framed carefully not only to capture conversations but to emphasize the color and detail in the background, just like a painting would. This is common in director Wes Andersons films.
The dialogue is constant and rapid at times, often poetic-like, care of the lead character who is given so much to say. As a pedantic concierge his verbal observations are sharp, funny, but frequently offensive. It is almost as if he can’t help himself. With that said, he is unlikeable. Ralph Fiennes gives a delightful portrayal.
The young Zero is played by a new face, Tommy Revolori, who naturally looks submissive and of a few words. The rest of the cast includes Adrien Brody, Jeff Goldblum, Edward Norton, and Saoirse Ronan as Zero’s romance partner. Willem Dafoe is a frightening but stiff assassin who is instructed to retrieve the painting at all costs.
The screenplay takes the story to unpredictable directions and with unpredictable momentum. This is not a film for everyone or anyone seeking spoon fed stories. There are surprises, some of which are perhaps too vulgar. And it doesn’t carry the emotions to be conventionally affecting. This is something different, a welcomed difference.