I haven’t seen a Wes Anderson film before. Even The Royal Tenenbaums, which I am reliably informed is something of a masterpiece. So all I had to go on, heading into the cinema, was the trailer and an idea that he tends towards the whimsical.
It also has a cast list as long as my arm, and studded with a panoply of big-name stars. It’s a draw, on the one hand, but it does tend to make me apprehensive. There’s a degree of “what is it compensating for?”, as well as a sense that some of these people can have only the barest amount of screen time in a film only 100 minutes long.
But without wanting to prejudge or give away anything much about the film, let’s get stuck into it.
And there, off the bat, we are into difficult territory. “Get stuck into it”, I say, but I’m afraid I didn’t find much substance to get stuck into.
The story is a disjointed, camp romp of a sort which seems of another age, using a story within a story within a story mechanism which isn’t nearly as confusing as it sounds like it should be. Zero Moustafa (a young version played by Tony Revolori, an older version played by F. Murray Abraham) is taken on as a lobby boy at the titular hotel, under the wing of concierge Gustave H (Ralph Feinnes. When a wealthy patron (Tilda Swinton) is murdered and leaves a valuable painting to Gustave, he is accused of the murder and sucked into a conspiracy and chased across eastern Europe on the brink of war.
It’s a comedy, first and foremost. And it is funny. There were several moments which had me laughing out loud. However, there is a dark undertone running throughout the film which is never really engaged with. The film flirts with a tragic darkness, even finds it unavoidable at points, but deals with it in an offhand way which I felt was undeserving.
Ralph Fiennes was, really, on fine form, with a razor wit and fantastic comic timing. I don’t usually think of him as comic actor, but he is the life and soul of the film.
Which, sadly, brings me back to my initial point. The substance. Now maybe it’s just not the sort of film which fits my bill, or maybe I’ve been spoilt by an unusually strong recent crop of mainstream heavyweight films. Either way, The Grand Budapest Hotel seemed to lack a particular direction, an idea which it was exploring or seeking. There was potential there, certainly, but it was left untapped.
What we got instead was a visually delicious romp. An exploration of cinematography, in place of a cohesive storyline. It was enjoyable, but only for a moment and with no compulsion for a second viewing. It was, I felt, the film equivalent of whipped cream — pretty to look at and nice in practice, but dissolving to disappointing nothingness in an instant.