Actually the trailer is rather deceptive as it implies that there is actually a plot, whereas it is really a collection of ‘adventures’ that fails to hang together. A writer (Tom Wilkinson) is writing his memoirs; or rather the memoirs of Zero Moustafa (Abraham F Murray) as told to a younger version of the author (Jude Law) as he spends a night in The Grand Budapest Hotel, situated in a fictional Eastern European town. Moustafa is the proprieteer of this gaudy and shabby hotel, which he reveals was once a pastel-coloured Ruritanian fantasy world. He tells of a bygone era in between the two world wars, when he was just a simple lobby boy under the employment of the eccentric Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes). The double framing doesn’t add very much; quite literally the framing is annoying as the screen ratio changes whenever there is a flashback.
Director Wes Anderson is accomplished enough at creating an aesthetic but when it comes to filling the film with plot and characters, he falls flat. The script is weak, with Fiennes’ performance being the only comic element in it. To be fair though, he is brilliant- much better than the script. Perhaps it’s because I associate him with the very serious pondering of The English Patient but he is delightful; cute, witty, eccentric- everything that the film tries to be. Unfortunately Tony Revolori as the lobby boy fails at being the straight man- well, fails at acting altogether. When he is called upon to be comic, such as when he accuses Gustave many times of flirting with his fiancée, his words fall flat and highlight the issue of why she would ever have been interested in him in the first place. Fiennes is quite obviously picking up the slack and hence the film lacks the comic dynamic that it promised in the trailer.
Anderson offers a lot of known actors- amongst the ones mentioned, there is Bill Murray, Adrian Brody, Saiorse Ronan, Tilda Swinton- but does little with them. It would have been better to pick one or two actors and make good use of them rather than throwing up endless disappointments by giving the actors nothing to do. Ronan gets a tiny bit more as Zero’s resourceful baker girlfriend, complete with quirky scar, but her character is underwritten.
This is a film that is just full of ‘nothings’. Nothing parts, nothing performances, nothing plot. It isn’t funny to get away with just being a trifle so near the end Anderson tries to sneak in some themes about the war and Eastern Europe (by throwing in a lot of greys near the end). The genre of farce that The Grand Budapest Hotel is surreal with a clear political message behind it- kind of Kafkaesque. However because Anderson’s film doesn’t have any politics, despite what it purports near the end, it shows the film up as being rather shallow and pointless. Just in case the politics didn’t convince you, Anderson also chucks in some faux Brideshead/Gatsby nostalgia, implying that Gustave symbolises some sort of truth about the past as well as being a charismatic and elusive figure. Again, this is a clunky attempt to try and add some emotional weight.
The Grand Budapest Hotel is proof that a film can be stifled by its aesthetic. It is hard to connect with a film that deliberately tries to be artificial and superficial so that we can remark on how nicely the cinematography is done or what pretty colours they chose for the hotel. This is the alternative way of being Oscar bait; make it look good, bag the visual Oscars, add some ‘unusual’ score and then the Academy think that you’ve got so many Oscar nominations anyway, they might as well give you a Best Picture one to pad things out.