Friday, March 21, 2014
Now playing at an indie art house near you:
THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL
(Dir. Wes Anderson, 2014)
The world of Wes Anderson just got a lot wackier with his newest work, a screwball romp set in a fictional European country in the 1930s, ostensibly inspired by the writings of Austrian writer Stefan Zweig.
Ralph Fiennes, in a role that thankfully made me forget his creepy turn as Charles Dickens earlier this year in THE INVISIBLE WOMAN, stars as M. Gustave, the charming concierge of the Grand Budapest Hotel in the Republic of Zubrowka as World War II approaches.
One of the hotel's newest employees, a Lobby Boy (Tony Revolori) named Zero, gets swept up in Fienne's farcical adventures involving the death of the wealthy Madame D (Tilda Swinton), with a valuable painting entitled "Boy With Apple" being left to the concierge in her will.
Swinton's family led by returning Anderson player Adrien Brody (sporting a Salvador-Dalí-esque mustache) as her son objects to Fiennes getting the priceless piece of art, and the family's dead-eyed hired hitman (Willem Dafoe) goes after our two plucky protagonists.
The tale is told as a story within a story by F. Murray Abraham as the older Zero in the 1960s to Jude Law credited only as "Young Writer." It's actually a story within a story within a story as the entire narrative by way of Law's later memoirs is being read in the present day by a teenage girl (Jella Niemann).
Anderson and cinematographer Robert Yeoman present each time frame in a different aspect ratio to reflect which film format was in use when the sequence is set. I.e. the '30s scenes that dominate the movie are seen in what's known as the "Academy ratio," an almost square-shaped frame. The later day '60s scenes are shot in widescreen, and the more modern material material is in conventional “flat” (1.85:1) format.
This whole process is so Wes Anderson-y. So is the eye-catching color scheme, the jaunty score by Alexandre Desplat (since it's mostly set in the '30s, there are no obscure Kinks songs on the soundtrack), and, of course, the cast full of Anderson regulars.
Jason Schwartzman, Jeff Goodblum, Edward Norton, Owen Wilson, and the great Bill Murray all don magnificent mustaches and join in. Even though none of them are really given much to do except just to be there, they're all nice to see as they briskly go by.
Along with Law and Abraham, and new to the Anderson stable is Saoirse Ronan as Zero's love interest (shades of the kids in love in Anderson's previous project MOONRISE KINGDOM), Tom Wilkinson as the older version of Law's character, and a bald Harvey Keitel as one of Fienne's fellow prison inmates who helps him escape.
It's a funny coincidence (to me at least), that this and MUPPETS MOST WANTED, also releasing in the area today, have elaborate prison break sequences.
Anyway, THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL is maybe the most fun film of Anderson's oeuvre. It has a witty playfulness to match its picturesque beauty - gotta love the miniture models, matte paintings, and dioramic backgrounds that largely make up the scenary.
It's not going to convert those who find Anderson's work to be twee, too quirky for its own good, or pretentious, but those as in love with his style as he is, will find it to be a very filling feast.
That it's a film made for Wes Anderson fans by the biggest Wes Anderson fan of them all, Wes Anderson, doesn't get in the way of the infectious whimsy one bit.