By Joan Ellis
In most Wes Anderson movies, eccentricity is the charm.
It’s a safe bet that whether or not you like “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” you will be curious about the mind that created it. Anderson’s mind never rests.
The dozen movies he has made bring a wide range of reaction from enthusiasm to disdain.
Count me in the middle. “Moonrise Kingdom” and “Rushmore” are the inventive products of an irresistibly goofy imagination. “Moonrise” was his own memory of first love between two outsiders who decide to escape their dull peers. “Rushmore” features a young boy with an obsession for writing plays and no inclination to play within school rules.
And now, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” gives us the story of a legendary concierge in a storied European hotel.
M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes, fully in the spirit of things) is the outsider this time; Zero (Tony Revolori) is the Lobby Boy who learns the trade from his exacting mentor; Jude Law plays the young writer who listens as the adult Zero (F. Murray Abraham) tells his story over dinner in the once grand dining room of the now forlorn Grand Budapest Hotel.
The best of the movie unfolds in the hotel’s glory days of the pre-war ‘30s when Gustave ran a perfect refuge for aristocrats who loved the perfection he had created. When Gustave learns that Zero, the new young Lobby Boy, has neither home nor family, he decides in an instant to train the boy to the trade. Their friendship reflects another of Wes Anderson’s ever-present themes: father/son relationships rooted firmly in trust. Their adventures begin with the reading of the will of hotel regular Madame D (the appropriately grand Tilda Swinton).
As Gustave and Zero are caught in the approach of World War II, we meet the director’s favorite regulars – Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Saoirse Ronan, Jason Schwartzman and Tom Wilkinson.
This anecdotal rendering of the capture and escape of our two friends sags in a confusion of characters. Each one of many anecdotes is a small scene from some figment of Anderson’s imagination – eluding thugs in a visually complex but arresting race through passing cable cars, among others. The problem here is that the efforts seem labored.
From the reading of the will to dinner years later in the Grand Budapest, those random scenes deliver their humor through the intensely solemn attention to detail and duty that every character bestows on the gravest of situations. Watch the adult Zero – now in full possession of his master’s spirit – at dinner, pleased that he has ordered the exact number of courses that will last through the story he is about to tell.
Feeling ambivalent about “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” I reassure myself by remembering that Wes Anderson was once a disciplinary problem whose teacher told him that for every two weeks he behaved himself, he could put on a play. That’s who he is.
Joan Ellis’ address on the Internet, which contains her review library, is JoanEllis.com.
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