Wes Anderson's films are always filled with a sense of whimsy, but none has been as whimsical as "The Grand Budapest Hotel."
The director's latest offering is as if Hans Christian Andersen had written a script for Quentin Tarantino because it blends the charm of a fairy tale with the craziness of a fast-talking action film.
The focus of this brilliantly brisk and bouncy tale is Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes), a legendary concierge at a noted European hotel, and his lobby boy sidekick, Zero (Tony Revolori). Gustave has never met a female patron — no matter her age — that he didn't love. This grand lifestyle is challenged when Gustave is accused of misdeeds and sent to jail. Only the efforts of his young protege will deliver Gustave from a life of incarceration.
Their misadventures take them on a whirlwind journey of mystery, lust and excitement played out in the inventive style of Anderson. The director's no slave to any film format, switching from real world sets to miniatures without hesitation. It works because Anderson's script floats so seamlessly between reality and fantasy. Because Anderson directs in such broad strokes, the best thing to do is just sit back and enjoy this feast for the eyes.
He pulls off the visuals without sacrificing his actors. Fiennes turns in one of his best performances as the life-loving concierge. Because of how big Anderson tells the story, Fiennes could have easily taken the role over the top. But he manages to ground the character with the right level of energy and mischief.
Fiennes and Revolori have the kind of great chemistry that made duos like Abbott and Costello work. Their interchange is so in sync that it sounds like the words are coming from the same person and creates exuberant dialogue.
Acting in an Anderson film is not easy. The director has a frantic and specific rhythm to the way he presents dialogue, which is probably why he continues to go back to the same performers he's used before — Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Jeff Goldblum, etc. They understand the cadence needed to match the visual imagery that Anderson splashes across the screen.
The film is loaded with tremendous supporting performances, topped by Willem Dafoe as a nonsensical no-nonsense killer. Because Dafoe plays the role with such commitment, the character never lapses into silly levels and maintains the feel of a villain from a melodrama.
"The Grand Budapest Hotel" is Anderson's finest attempt at film whimsy. He's created a movie that is as visually stunning as it is smartly written. The final element that makes it work so perfectly is an amazing cast headed by Fiennes. The film is a joy to behold.
"The Grand Budapest Hotel," rated R for language, adult content, violence. Stars Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, Willem Dafoe, Bill Murray, Edward Norton. Directed by Wes Anderson. Running time: 100 minutes. Grade: A