Like all films from writer-director Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel is warmly funny. For a while, anyway.
Anderson is one of the most creative talents working in film today. And his movies are some of the most original to appear. All of which makes it hard to understand why his films can be so annoying.
Anderson wrote the screenplay from a story he wrote with Hugo Guinness. The non-stop shaggy-dog narrative takes place in a fictional European country, a fertile playground for the director’s febrile imagination and parts of which sometimes look like the fairy-tale world of Anderson’s animated The Fantastic Mr. Fox.
As usual, he paces his film rapidly, never staying with one shot, or locale, for too long. Also as usual, Anderson and his cinematographer, Robert D. Yeoman, use frequent tracking and dolly shots — that is, when not simply setting the camera in front of the actors for vibrantly colorful, perfectly composed single shots.
But once the director sets those actors moving, the often-dreaded Andersonian whimsy kicks in. For a while, it looks like The Grand Budapest Hotel might actually be clever, and humorous, while avoiding the cutesiness. But when everyone starts talking in superficial dialogue and the narrative events become increasingly silly, audience involvement lessens.
In a default position among the film’s many prominent actors (Edward Norton, Tilda Swinton, Jeff Goldblum and, of course, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson and Jason Schwartzman), Ralph Fiennes more or less “stars” as Monsieur Gustave, the man in charge of the titular hotel in 1932. His story unfolds in flashback, told by the elderly Zero (F. Murray Abraham) to an interested hotel visitor (Jude Law).
Gustave runs the Grand Budapest Hotel while paying special attention — even sexual — to ladies of a certain age. When one of his conquests leaves him a priceless painting in her will, it thrusts Gustave and his lobby boy, the young Zero (Tony Revolori), into a chain of events that eventually involves jail, an escape, a murder and various other plot points that seem thrown in at random.
Through all that, keeping track of the goings-on becomes more burdensome than enjoyable, which coincides with the gradual diminution of the film’s funny bits.
What began as fun ends as work.
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Rated R, 99 minutes.
Opens Friday at the Landmark Magnolia in Dallas. Opens March 21 at regional theaters.