FLIX: 'The Grand Budapest Hotel' is grand

March 19, 2014 at 4:01 p.m.
Updated March 18, 2014 at 10:19 p.m.

It only takes a few seconds to realize you're watching a Wes Anderson film. There is a neat symmetry and a kaleidoscope of colors that fill every frame.

The surreal story is brimming with odd characters whose eyes, piercing the screen, seem to be gazing upon the audience. This new comedic fable is filled with plenty of Anderson regulars, like Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman and Edward Norton, but it's Anderson-film first-timer Ralph Fiennes who delivers a magical performance that is laugh out loud funny.

M. Gustave (Fiennes) is concierge extraordinaire at the Grand Budapest Hotel. His impeccable manners and excellent posture are matched by his immaculate grooming.

He tends to every guest's needs at this legendary establishment, especially the rich, blond and senior ladies - his sexual preference.

One of his favorite guests is the 85-year-old dowager Madame D. (Tilda Swinton), whoever he describes as being "dynamite in the sack" to his faithful apprentice and sidekick, Lobby Boy Zero (Tony Revolori).

When she suddenly passes away, the two board a train to rush to her bedside. Upon arrival, they find Madame D. lying in state, and Gustave, while viewing the body, tells her, "You're looking so well, darling. You really are. I don't know what sort of cream they've put on you down at the morgue, but I want some."

Later that evening, her family gathers for the reading of the will, and the executor, Deputy Kovacs (Jeff Goldblum), announces the priceless painting "Boy with Apple" has been left to Gustave. Madame D's viper son, Dmitri, (Adrien Brody) quickly stands up and asks "Who's Gustave H.?" to which a voice in the back of the room answers, "I'm afraid that's me, darling."

A heated argument is followed by Dmitri punching Gustave, Lobby Boy Zero punching Dmitri, and the skull-rings-wearing family hitman, Jopling (Willem Dafoe), punching Zero. The blows are delivered in rapid succession and play out like a scene from "The Three Stooges."

In fact, much of the physical comedy is reminiscent of the silent films of Buster Keaton. Gustave and Zero, with the help of two of the servants, take off with the painting, and the family frames Gustave for the murder of Madame D.

The next chapter of the film finds our protagonist in prison, where after getting into a scuffle - to prove he's no "candy ass" - he befriends several of the inmates, including Ludwig (a bald Harvey Keitel), who helps Gustave escape. He is aided on the outside by Lobby Boy Zero and his fiancee, Agatha (Saoirse Ronan), a baker at the exquisite pastry shop Mendl's.

Chasing them down is Inspector Henckels (Norton) and his band of keystone cops.

All of this takes place in the fictitious European Republic of Zubrowka, which is on the cusp of war after being invaded by a nazi-like army with lightning bolt ZZ's on their black uniforms instead of swastikas.

There are several narrators telling the story - the author (Tom Wilkinson) in 1985, his younger self, the writer, (Jude Law) in 1968, and the owner of the hotel, M. Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham), who begins the story of M. Gustave in 1932.

Anderson uses various aspect ratios to frame the different time periods, and the film was inspired by the works of Viennese writer Stefan Zweig.

The lavish production design by Adam Stockhausen provides lots of eye candy for the viewer, and cinematographer Robert D. Yeoman manages to capture every intricate detail.

The writing is razor sharp, and the superlative cast helps make this yarn Wes Anderson's best film yet - or at least my favorite.

Stars: 4

Joe Friar is a member of the Houston Film Critics Society, juror at the Victoria Texas Independent Film Festival (VTXIFF) and host of the Breakfast Buzz morning show on Hit Radio 104.7. Contact Joe at jfriar95@gmail.com



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