Here’s one thing you can say about Wes Anderson: he has a very specific aesthetic. You will never, ever catch one of his movies on HBO and think to yourself, Huh, I wonder who directed that.
The Grand Budapest Hotel is no exception, and yet the movie still feels like a bit of a departure for Anderson. The screwball comedy I expected, the cast of eccentric characters engaged in various shenanigans . . . I anticipated the wacky hijinks that did, indeed, ensue. But the darker tones? The comically abrupt violence? The actual ending?
It’s fair to say that Wes Anderson and The Grand Budapest Hotel took me by surprise.
The owner of the Grand Budapest Hotel, Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham), tells the story of how, as Young Zero (Tony Revolori), he came to work as a lobby boy under the concierge, M. Gustav (Ralph Fiennes), becoming his trusted companion and accomplice even as Gustav ends up stealing a painting, getting accused of murder, and staging a prison break.
1. This won’t be a terribly long review because, despite liking the film, I don’t know how much I really have to say about it. (And what I do want to say includes Spoilers, which frustrates me. I hate creating a Spoiler Section for something this short. It’s just annoying.) But let’s begin with acknowledging that while this is not necessarily an easy to film to summarize, and while the the brief attempt above certainly has flaws, it’s still better than Netflix’s summary, which goes like this: “Between the world wars, Gustave H, the concierge at a prestigious European hotel, takes a bellboy named Zero as a trusted protégé. Meanwhile, the upscale guests are involved in an art theft and a dispute over a vast family fortune.”
If you haven’t seen the movie, let me tell you that the upscale guests aren’t involved in shit. Gustave and Zero are involved in an art theft, but they’re employees, not guests. Dmitri (Adrien Brody) is certainly a part of the family fortune dispute, but he’s a guest at the Grand Budapest Hotel for like a second (and only near the very end of the movie) and never steals any art at all. For a movie about a hotel, there really isn’t very much attention paid to the actual guests.
2. Also, I desperately want a lobby boy cap now to add to my Random Hat Collection.
My birthday is at the end of November. In case you were curious about that totally unrelated bit of trivia.
3. My biggest problem with The Grand Budapest Hotel is with the female characters. Specifically, the near total lack of them.
Agatha (Saoirse Ronan) is Zero’s love interest . . . and that’s about it. The actress is fine in the role, but she is supremely unimportant to the plot and could easily be written out of the story by only changing one or two very simple details. Meanwhile, Madame D (Tilda Swinton) is important to the plot, but only in regards to instigating it. She has, perhaps, a grand total of four minutes screen time.
On the other hand, there are tons of male characters. We have a concierge, a lobby boy, a writer, a hitman, a lawyer, an inspector, a butler, and a rich son who expects to inherit, not to mention several convicts and a whole group of other hotel concierges who just as easily could’ve been female. That’s like eight important male characters to two semi-important female characters, and there’s not really any pressing reason that the majority of those eight need to be male. The inequality here doesn’t make this film bad, of course, but it is awfully frustrating.
4. About those convicts . . . one of them looked pretty familiar to me, and I was like, Wait, is that Alan Arkin? No, no, that’s Harvey Keitel. Wait, IS it Harvey Keitel?
The answer is yes, yes, it’s Harvey Keitel. But if you’d asked me last week if I thought I could tell the two actors apart, I would have laughed and said something snotty like, “Yeah, I think I can manage.” Well, Last Week Me is an asshole because I honestly wasn’t sure until I checked IMDb.
5. Most of the things I really want to talk about can’t be discussed without Spoilers. So let me just tell you a few, quick random things before I make my (godamn) Spoiler Section:
5A. The music, like in most Wes Anderson movies, is perfect. Quirky and bouncy and fits the film beautifully.
5B. I’m amused by the fact that almost no one in the cast bothers to change their natural accents. Like, I think there were a couple of actors who said a few words or names with a vague hint of an accent, but for the most part, everyone just goes with what God and their hometown gave them. In all honesty, I kind of enjoyed it. There was a delightful assortment of various accents to listen to, and it was nice, not hearing people try to strangle their vowels into a chokehold.
A small list of actors who I’d like to hear use their natural accents in a movie, since they rarely, if ever, seem to: Guy Pearce, Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman, Anna Paquin, Karl Urban, Colin Farrell, and Melanie Lynskey.
5C. Despite the fact that I don’t have much to offer all my (imaginary) heirs, sometimes I think about creating a will. But now I know I need to create two wills: a normal will, and a will that should be opened “only in the event of my death by murder.” Maybe I’ll get to work on that later tonight.
5D. And finally, another unequivocal truth: there is just something inherently funny about Ralph Fiennes saying the words “candy ass.” I mean, we can all agree on that, right?
With that, let’s talk about all the violence.
Okay, seriously, with the darkness in this film. This movie is easily the darkest comedy I’ve ever seen by Wes Anderson. First, Willem Dafoe just up and tosses Jeff Goldblum’s cat out the fucking window. Even Jeff Goldblum can’t believe it. This was Inappropriate Giggling Fit # 1, and I LIKE cats, you know? I still giggled like a fiend. (And then reassured Nygma that I would not let Willem Dafoe or anyone else toss him out of a window. He gently bit my finger, clearly a sign of relief.)
So then Jeff Goldblum — poor Goldblum, man — finds himself in a museum that’s actually creepier than half the haunted houses you see in horror movies, like, if this is an indication of Wes Anderson’s ability to shoot scary scenes, I would seriously like to see a horror movie by him post haste. (Come on, how amazing would a horror movie by Wes Anderson be? I can’t even imagine. The possibilities, you guys, the possibilities. I thought I couldn’t want anything more than a Wes Anderson remake of The Breakfast Club, but apparently I was wrong.)
Anyway, just as Jeff Goldblum seems home free, Willem Dafoe appears out of the darkness and slams a heavy door shut on Goldblum’s hand, instantly severing four of his fingers. It’s not particularly gory, but it’s so shockingly abrupt. We don’t even need to see Goldblum’s demise because nothing could top those four little fingers suddenly falling into the snow.
Except for maybe this:
Oh my god, you guys. Inappropriate Giggling Fit # 2. I laughed SO HARD. I even laughed posting this picture.
It can’t all be giggles and amputated fingers, though. While I was more or less expecting Ralph Fiennes to die at the end of the movie, I’ll admit, I wasn’t expecting for him to be murdered by a death squad. (Not that we see the scene itself, but again, we don’t need to.) And while you know the Grand Budapest Hotel is going to get destroyed, I wasn’t expecting the very last lines of the movie to be this: “The next week I sailed for a cure in South America and began a long, wandering journey abroad. I did not return to Europe for many years. It was an enchanting old ruin, but I never managed to see it again.” I mean, shit. Things got depressing fast in the last few minutes of this movie.
But despite my initial surprise, I don’t feel like the downer ending was a hard left turn into What-the-Fuckville. I felt there was just enough hints at foreshadow throughout the film to support this bleak end. My only problem with the Gloomy Ending of Doom is, once again, Agatha. We find out that she died in childbirth only a few short years after her marriage to Zero, and that just seemed like an unnecessary and annoying kick to the jewels, so to speak. Her death doesn’t play into the plot and isn’t cleverly foreshadowed like Gustave’s and clearly only happens to make things more depressing for Zero, as if losing his mentor and eventually his hotel aren’t depressing enough. Also, while women did and still do die in childbirth, there’s something frustrating about how often it’s used in stories, like, we need to get rid of a woman? Well, let’s just kill her off in childbirth! That way, we can kill the woman AND the baby and double dose on the tragedy! Wee!
Other than that, though, I really liked this movie, unusual tonal shifts and all.
Gustave: “Keep your hands off my lobby boy!”
Gustave: “You see, there are still faint glimmers of civilization left in this barbaric slaughterhouse that was once known as humanity. Indeed that’s what we provide in our own modest, humble, insignificant . . . oh, fuck it.”
Gustave: “You’re looking so well, darling, you really are. They’ve done a marvelous job. I don’t know what sort of cream they’ve put on you down at the morgue, but I want some. Honestly, you look better than you have in years. You look like you’re alive.”
Gustave: “Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned from the penny dreadfuls, it’s that when you find yourself in a place like this, you must never be a candy ass.”
Gustave: “She’s been murdered, and you think I did it.” (beat, then Gustave turns and runs)
Pinky: “Me and the boys talked it over. We think you’re a really straight fellow.”
Gustave: “Well, I’ve never been accused of that before, but I appreciate the sentiment.”
Gustave: “You’re the first of the official death squads that we’ve been formally introduced to. How do you do?”
Gustave: “I’ll never part with it. It reminded her of me. It will remind me of her, always. I’ll die with this picture above my bed. See the resemblance?”
Zero: “Oh . . . oh, yes.”
(cut to moments later)
Gustave: “Actually, we should sell it.”
Gustave: “Take extra-special care of every little bit of it, as if I were watching over you like a hawk with a horsewhip in its talons, because I am.”
Serge: “I was the official witness in Madame D’s presence to the creation of a second will to be executed only in the event of her death by murder.”
Gustave: “How’s our dear Agatha?”
Zero: “Twas first light, when I saw her face upon the heath, and hence did I return, day by day, entranced, though vinegar did brine my heart, never w — ”
Gustave: “Very good! I’m going to stop you there because the alarm has sounded, but remember where we left off, because I insist you finish later.”
Kovacs: “I’m an attorney, Dmitri, obligated to proceed according to the rule of law. Not agreed.”
Kovacs: “Something’s missing. A crucial document, either misplaced or conceivably destroyed. I don’t know what it contains; I don’t know what it represents; I don’t know what it is. But there are traces and shadows of it everywhere.”
I liked this one. How much probably remains to be determined because most Wes Anderson movies grow on me over time, but overall, I think it’s one of my favorites I’ve seen so far. I just wish his next movie would have more interesting opportunities for women.
Civility is an uncommon virtue, but it will also get you killed.