I am about to drop a piece of information that most likely make each and every one of you wince. Consider this your fair warning. I personally was shocked when I realized it, so I can only imagine what your reaction will be. Seriously, take a seat because I am not sure you will be able to handle it otherwise. Ready? Wes Anderson has been making movies for almost 20 years. Boom. Mind blown. It does not seem like that long, does it? But Anderson’s first feature, Bottle Rocket (based on an earlier-made short film) was released in 1996. Crazy. Anderson has been refining his style ever since, most recently in The Grand Budapest Hotel, which sees release this weekend.
The Grand Budapest Hotel stars Ralph Fiennes as Gustave H., the titular building’s concierge. Gustave provides full service (and I do mean “full”) to the hotel’s older female patrons, and when one of these women dies suddenly, Gustave and his lobby boy/protege Zero (Tony Revolori) find themselves wrapped up in a dangerous plot.
The movie has the classic trappings of a Wes Anderson film: the hotel itself is another fantastical location to be explored, much like the Tenenbaum homestead or Steve Zissou’s submarine; the camera moves independently of the characters; and all of the standard players (Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, etc.) make appearances. However, despite the film’s aesthetics, The Grand Budapest Hotel feels like a departure from Anderson’s usual fare.
One of the factors contributing to this phenomenon is Ralph Fiennes. Fiennes is a great actor, and his performance as Gustave is incredibly strong. But he is not your typical Andersonian protagonist. Gustave projects the air of pretension that often defines Anderson’s characters, but it a clear veneer that Gustave is able to drop at a moment’s notice in favor of brash vulgarity. At these moments Gustave is a very real person, in a way Bill Murray’s Steve Zissou only achieves in his harshest moments in The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou. Fiennes is a new addition to Anderson’s stable of actors, and he brings his classic British training to the role.
Another of the film’s peculiarities – in comparison to the rest of Anderson’s oeuvre – is the music. Films like The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic and Moonrise Kingdom are defined at times by the soundtrack. The Grand Budapest Hotel, however, perhaps because of its period-ness, relies solely on original compositions from Alexandre Desplat.
Neither of these curiosities are unintentional; Anderson meticulously curates his music choices, and while Fiennes perfectly realizes the cracks in Gustave’s facade, they are conceived by Anderson’s script. While Anderson’s visual style may not change drastically, it is heartening to see that a successful director (who has his fair share of supporters and detractors) is willing to stretch in subtle ways. That says a lot about a man who is as intensely invested in every detail of his art as Anderson is. The Grand Budapest Hotel may not be as good as 2012’s Moonrise Kingdom, but it is an essential entry in Anderson’s canon; it is proof of a filmmaker who does not plan on settling in any time soon, even after 20 years in the game.