Wes Anderson’s movies consistently hit the spot for me – the extraordinary (and somehow believable) characters, the silly seriousness, the perfectly organized “thing shots,” the stories within stories within stories. From the excessively formal Gustave (who invents and performs convoluted poetry on the spot), to the funicular railway trolley, to the 3 second George Clooney cameo, Wes Anderson has outdone himself once again with The Grand Budapest Hotel.
The main plot of the movie is nested within three framing stories. The movie begins and ends with short scenes of a young girl beside the headstone of “Author,” reading a small novel entitled “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” Next we have a flashback to the Author as an old man creating a biographical video explaining the inspiration for his novel The Grand Budapest Hotel. Our next flashback is the Author as a young (Jude Law) man, who lives a solitary life as one of the dwindling guests at what is left of the Grand Budapest Hotel. He runs into our main character, Zero Moustafa – current owner and former lobby boy of the once prestigious hotel. Zero and the Author meet for a lengthy dinner, during which Zero recounts the story of how he went from refugee to owner of the hotel – and much like their fancy dinner, the story is delivered in 5 parts. This is the meat of our story: the adventures of excessively formal and loyal concierge Gustave H, and his shy and savvy lobby boy Zero. In true Wes Anderson fashion, these stories remain symmetrical of each other, framing each other in the proper order, and each being filmed in a different ratio.
One of Anderson’s greatest achievements, in all his movies, is portraying characters who you feel you really know, even after only a few moments of screen time. The Grand Budapest Hotel, even more than his other movies, displays this – simply because there are just so many characters and so many stories. And it’s never overwhelming. The young girl alone in the cemetery, hunched over her book. The ancient nervous wreck with wonky lipstick who knows something bad is going to happen to her (Tilda Swinton, what a goddess). The cat-loving lawyer (Jeff Goldblum) whose loyalty to the law gets him stuffed into a museum sarcophagus. The 7 second scene where the prison guard decides not to chop up Mendl’s beautiful incoming pastries. The main characters are revealed to us similarly, through imaginative and ridiculous details: we watch prepubescent Zero draw an uneven fake mustache on his face in the morning, we hear Gustave’s first request after escaping from prison: a squirt of cologne. The Grand Budapest Hotel holds our attention the whole way through: partly because the plot is so delightfully mysterious, but also because we’re always anticipating the next fascinating character to show up.
It’s true that The Grand Budapest Hotel is significantly darker than Wes Anderson’s other movies: a severed head in a laundry basket, 4 fingers chopped off by a museum door, a cat thrown out the window to its gruesome death. But the movie never loses its whimsical Dr.Seuss-meets-Lemony-Snicket feel, and audience members are laughing the whole way through (perhaps loudest at the cat death, actually). How? Wes Anderson is a master of style and tone. Two memorable “chase” scenes in the movie depict both the fleer and the follower walking rather than running. Light-hearted adventure music is always played at the right time to ensure we’re not taking the darkness too seriously (stream the full soundtrack here). And everything is just so beautiful – the colours, the landscapes, the sincerity – it would be very difficult to feel uncomfortable or distraught during this movie. Even at the thought of a grown man carrying a dead cat around in a plastic bag.
It seems that everyone else agrees: this is Wes Anderson’s crowning achievement. I desperately want to see Wes Anderson and Lemony Snicket (Daniel Handler) collaborate on some project – both can explore deeply emotional concepts with such imagination, style, and silliness. I’m already excited to watch this movie again, but in the meantime, maybe I’ll try my hand at making a Courtesan au Chocolat.