Grand Budapest Hotel is many things. It is a wonderful idiosyncratic murder mystery, a caper movie nostalgically capturing and sometimes creating a fictionalized romantic place in time -- between World Wars Eastern Europe. It's a deft piece of writing and directing by Wes Anderson, driven by a host of comedic character actors romping joyfully through hyperbolic situations; a comic confection come to life.
In this world, dramatic tension exists as a springboard for revelry. And who wouldn't have fun with Anderson's nimble juxtapositions, stop and start humor, fussiness, contradictions and ribaldry. Part of the mystery and fun is seeing who will show up next to accompany Ralph Fiennes... F. Murray Abraham, Tilda Swinton, Adrien Brody, Tom Wilkinson, Jeff Goldblum, Willem Defoe, Harvey Keitel, Jude Law, Ed Norton, Jason Schwartzman, Saoirse Ronan, Bob Balaban and, of course, Anderson staple Bill Murray.
As the plot turns, Ralph Fiennes luxuriates as Monsieur Gustave H, the lecherous, fastidious concierge of the Grand Budapest Hotel whose strong service ethic requires that he provide every desired service for his guests, especially old, rich women. "She's dynamite in the sack," recounts Gustave to Zero Moustafa, his Lobby Boy trainee. "But she's 84!" remonstrates Zero. "I've had older," protests Gustave. Later he advises: "I go to bed with all my friends", suggesting that neither age, nor gender is for him an impediment.
The death of one of Monsieur Gustave and the hotel's prominent clients propels the plot line through improbable hotel lobbies, fortress prisons and the middle European countryside. Anderson's model backdrops seem to range from Groucho's war-ready Fredonia to Budapest's actual fading dowager Grand Hotel Gellert. His eye for imagined scene is as good as his ear for dialogue -- and his ear is perfect.
M. Gustave thrills us with his old world civility, then abruptly catches us off guard with hilarious bursts of vulgarity. After establishing character, Anderson's actors constantly make unexpected turns, breaking the ice upon which we were comfortably standing. Perhaps because they populate all or many of his films, Murray, Scwartzman, Brody et al are adept at sharing the tone, rhythm and sensibility of Anderson's quirky attractive universe.
Was there ever a place like the Grand Budapest Hotel? A family like the Royal Tennenbaums? An island like Moonrise Kingdom? Familiar in essence, but sweeter in the memory of what we would like to have it been. Welcome again to Andersonville!