Whenever I talk or write about Wes Anderson, I tend to come across as quite negative. Therefore I will start this review by saying that I really enjoyed The Grand Budapest Hotel. I was laughing the whole way through and had a really good time. The soundtrack tops my “most played” charts on Spotify. Go and see it.
If you have seen a Wes Anderson film before, you will know what to expect: symmetrical images, striking colours, children behaving like adults, imaginative swearing and Bill Murray sporting some form of epic facial hair. As many have pointed out, TGBH is his most Wes-y film yet. Anderson newcomer Ralph Fiennes stars as Gustave, the dedicated concierge of the prestigious Grand Budapest Hotel, with a weakness for elderly ladies staying at the hotel. When one of those ladies, Madame D (Tilda Swinton) dies and leaves Gustave an invaluable painting, much to the dismay of her family, things start to fall apart. Hilarity ensues once the screwball plot starts to get going: wars break out, people are sent to prison and cats are thrown out of windows.
The narrative is not only Wes-y, but also messy: there are not one, but two unnecessary framing devices. Characters drift in and out of the film so quickly; you barely have time to recognise the huge stars who are playing them. Except for Gustave and his bellboy /mentee Zero (Tony Revolori), the characters are almost caricatures. Saoirse Ronan’s part feels particular underwritten and underdeveloped, even though she is the most prominent female character.
The central relationship between Gustave and Zero is however rather adorable, but it runs the risk of drowning in the sheer overload of quirkiness. There is so much going on in every single frame, carefully constructed by the director; you don’t have the time to get to know and connect with the characters. As a result, there is a hole of sorts in the film.
The reason why I am usually so harsh with Wes Anderson is because I really like what he is about. His visual style is brilliant and unique. He has a wonderful way with music (helped by composer Alexandre Desplat). He casts great actors. With Moonrise Kingdom, my favourite film of 2012, he proved that he can get it absolutely right. Yet, most of his films leave a faint aftertaste, a sense that they are close to greatness, but not quite there.