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The Grand Budapest Hotel

You would never mistake The Grand Budapest Hotel for anything other than a Wes Anderson movie, which is just fine for Anderson’s fans. The bad news, if you want to put it that way, is that his eighth feature is a bit of a retreat from the last one, Moonrise Kingdom, which may have been his first film to show a real emotional connection to his characters. This time he’s back to working out interests that may be a little too precious to involve a wider audience. But he’s refined his comic style to the point where, even if the context is abstruse, the surface is so delightful that it’s hard to carp about it.

Structured as a flashback within a flashback, the bulk of the movie takes place in the early 1930s—“between the wars,” although the middle European countries through which it weaves and the war that is about to break out are fictional. M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) is the concierge of the Grand Budapest Hotel, which he runs with an attention to detail that has made it famous throughout Europe. His affections for the elderly ladies who vacation here involve him in an estate battle which requires him to travel outside the country. And that journey takes him out of his island of safety into areas where soldiers want to examine your papers, and don’t take kindly to suspicious behavior.

The plot is a rigamarole of clichéd situations that serve to give the movie momentum. The real point, aside from Anderson’s delight in nostalgia and anachronisms (the special effects look like they could have been done by Georges Méliès), is Fiennes’s performance. Alternately stodgy and energized, Gustave is a characterization that would leave a less able actor dizzy. His mercurial speeches often move with the speed of thought, making and changing plans without stopping for a new breath.

The film is peppered with familiar faces to the Anderson canon: of course Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman, who I think have been in all of his films since Rushmore; Owen Wilson; Edward Norton; Adrien Brody; and, if you look closely, George Clooney (I could be wrong there). Also on hand are the much underused Jeff Goldblum, a scene-stealer as a lawyer; F. Murray Abraham; Mathieu Amalric; Willem Dafoe; Harvey Keitel; Jude Law; Saoirse Ronan; Léa Seydoux; Tilda Swinton; Tom Wilkinson; and Bob Balaban.

Most of these appear late in the film as members of the secret Society of the Crossed Keys, which turns out to be little more than a pleasant speed bump in the plot. Like the pastries which figure prominently in the plot, The Grand Budapest Hotel is delicious but eventually a bit too much of a good thing. Anderson may have suspected this, to judge from the speed with which he wraps the whole thing up. It’s an audience-pleaser that should gain him new fans; next time I hope he serves a more substantial concoction.

Watch the trailer for The Grand Budapest Hotel

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