Writer-director Wes Anderson’s artificial filmic world and peculiarly funny, rhythmic dialogue have led detractors to peg him as fake, spoiled, cutesy, precious and quirky — as if nothing other than realism will do.
Yet with its wonderful combination of perfectly mixed elements, Anderson’s new, and eighth, film, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” — based on a story by Anderson and Hugo Guinness — proves his talent undoubtedly.
Through the clever use of flashbacks within flashbacks, the film tells the tale of M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes, in a warm, buttoned-up performance) a famous, adored and respected concierge working at the hotel after World War I.
One elderly guest, Madame D. (Tilda Swinton) — for whom Gustave has performed certain in-room favors — dies and leaves him a priceless painting called “Boy with Apple.” While her greedy descendants are angry and vengeful, Gustave winds up accused of her murder.
The movie’s heart is the touching, funny friendship between Gustave and his latest lobby boy, Zero Moustafa (newcomer Tony Revolori). With unflagging youthful dignity, Zero does everything from fetching the morning papers to breaking Gustave out of prison. Zero also falls in love with a beautiful pastry maker (Saoirse Ronan), whose wares come in handy several times over.
As with his earlier films, in “Grand Budapest Hotel” Anderson and his crew build an impeccable, elaborate world that is opulent and breathtaking, yet somewhat silly.
Scenes are framed in large rectangular blocks — with different aspect ratios for different time periods — and the camera seems to move only at perfect 90-degree angles.
Usually when filmmakers fixate on design, it is at the expense of character, but Anderson clearly loves his large cast of actors (including many he has worked with before), their roles and their dialogue.
Although none of the characters are particularly deep, they sometimes reveal small, beautiful things. They’re interesting and amusing, like lovable cartoons.
Indeed, Anderson’s greatest influence could be the Looney Tunes shorts of the 1950s, with their zany humor playing out in front of rich backdrops (though the name “Madame D.” also suggests a nod to elegant filmmaker Max Ophuls).
“The Grand Budapest Hotel” manages to be completely controlled, and at the same time a place where anything is possible. In several scenes, Anderson cheerfully employs miniature models — and in one case, miniature figures — rather than computer effects.
Realistic it’s not, but within its own world, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is a funny, sweet delight.
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Starring Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, Saoirse Ronan, Jude Law
Written and directed by Wes Anderson
Running time 1 hour, 39 minutes