Can something be hilarious and somewhat dull all at once? If you agree that humour can be both outlandish and subtle at the same time, then yes, I think so, because Wes Anderson has proven it to be.
In fact, he is the master of this enviable and strange balance, as shown by films such as The Royal Tenenbaums and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou; now we can add The Grand Budapest Hotel to the list. They are all clearly “Andersonesque”, meaning the director is an auteur of dry quirk (and he’s only 45!)
In The Grand Budapest Hotel, we follow the celebrated concierge Monsieur Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) and his protégé bell boy Zero Maustafa (Tony Revolori) as they manage to secure the priceless painting Boy with Apple so that it may hang years later in the place where their unlikely friendship began: the dilapidated but infamous Grand Budapest Hotel.
The story is set in a place which never was and so no longer exists – the Republic of Zubrowka. Just as Anderson is not interested in establishing that hair blows when one is bobsledding down a mountain at the rate of at least a hundred kilometres per hour, nor is he interested in giving the citizens of Zubrowka a specific accent. Perhaps that is why we laugh when Edward Norton (as Henckels) speaks his first words in his boyish American accent and Harvey Keitel (Ludwig) does so in his old-school rough-boy New York City one. Of course Agatha, the baker with the birthmark on her face, is Irish, and Gustave is a camp Englishman. This decision was anything but lazy.
This might be the most accessible of Anderson’s films, and therefore, perhaps, the most conventionally funny, but that is not to say he has lost his artistic edge. There are still deadpan actors and opulent sets, and he is still casting his favourites: Bill Murray, Jason Shwartzman, Owen Wilson, Tilda Swinton.
Swinton is unrecognisable in make-up that must have taken hours to apply so that she might be a 90-year-old woman in just five minutes on screen; Murray, looking much like himself, is also on screen for about five minutes. Apparently George Clooney was a German gunman among many, and he hadn’t a single line. Such is the respect among film royalty for Wes Anderson, and this film does his reputation justice.
Fiennes, as the famous Gustave, is laugh-out-loud funny, utterly endearing, and perfect. For me, it is Fiennes’ charming ridiculousness and the caper-like plot of the story that make The Grand Budapest Hotel my favourite Anderson film to date.
More InDaily film reviews:
Half of a Yellow Sun
Need for Speed
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