If any of you have the good fortune to escape your piles of work and make it to a movie theater this spring, consider “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” Wes Anderson’s latest irreverent film. “Grand Budapest” is a delightful, engaging romp through a fictional European country, following the absurd adventures of hotel concierge Gustave X (Ralph Fiennes) and his loyal lobby boy Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolory). Fiennes gives a marvelous performance as the charismatic, larger-than-life concierge, animating the film with the twinkle in his eye and perfect comedic timing.
“Grand Budapest” opens with a young girl clutching a book written by a figure known as The Author (Jude Law). She opens to the first chapter, detailing The Author’s stay at The Grand Budapest Hotel, and the viewers are hence launched into the fading glamour of a once extravagant resort in the Alps. We learn that this mammoth, palatial hotel was once a beacon of old-world elegance, despite having fallen on rough times and waning popularity in recent years. When The Author meets the mysterious owner, the elderly Mr. Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham), and inquires as to the story behind Mr. Moustafa’s ownership, the real story is introduced.
It all begins with the effervescent concierge, Gustave X, who was at the helm of the hotel throughout its glory-years. Mr. Gustave upheld standards of excellence, knew every last detail of the goings-on at the hotel, reeked of cologne and had a penchant for befriending and bedding affluent older heiresses. Here lies the source of the intrigue; one such lady, Madame D. (the legendary Tilda Swinton), passes away under shady circumstances and bequeaths a priceless work of art to her confidant and lover Mr. Gustave. Her avaricious relatives (including a shady son played by Adrien Brody and a murderous cousin portrayed by Willem Dafoe) will stop at nothing to keep the painting out of Mr. Gustave’s hands, inciting an epic hunt for the slippery Concierge and his plucky sidekick, lobby boy Zero Moustafa. These events are even further complicated by the outbreak of war across the fictional land, the Republic of Zubrowka.
Mr. Gustave and Zero, an unlikely pair, embark on a series of ill-fated adventures, each more outlandish than the last. In one memorable moment, Mr. Gustave and Zero flee from their enemies in a conveniently located toboggan and plummet down a mountain to safety. When Mr. Gustave is imprisoned, Zero works to free him with the help of his young love, Agatha (a lovely Saoirse Ronan), who works in a pastry shop and comes to play a key role. When Mr. Gustave calls upon his network of trusted concierges all across Europe, the two continue the chase to uncover the true will and testament of the Madame D. without being captured (or worse) by the relatives, or apprehended by soldiers suspicious of Zero, a refugee.
What keeps the movie entertaining and full of spark and spunk is the attention to whimsical details, the rich palette of the scenery, and the witty repartee between characters, particularly Gustave X. The nostalgia of the movie’s premise, an old man regaling a young writer of the pre-war grandeur of Europe, also rings true and hits a profound, wistful note. Though the plot is perhaps not as thrilling as intended, and the humor is more cerebral than laugh-out-loud funny, “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is thoroughly enjoyable and is a true diversion from reality without being a “guilty” pleasure. Though I would hate to give anything away, I will say that the denouement of the various conflicts is so illogical and fantastical that I laughed in wonder, enthralled by the spectacle and committed to the allegory of this sincere and silly movie.