This has got to be one of the strangest and most engrossing movies that I have ever seen. For real, this movie is more random than Seinfeld, and that’s saying something. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised by this. After all, the last film I saw by Wes Anderson was The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. That was also one of the strangest and most engrossing movies I have ever seen. Wes Anderson is a master of subtle and random comedy. You never know where the next funny moment is going to come from. Sometimes, it is just a split-second. To a point where you are laughing and you don’t really know why. That is some powerful-good filmmaking, and fun to watch. Still, this is an odd movie. There is a minute amount of direction, but that’s about it. Though I suppose I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s talk about it.
The plot of this movie…is odd. It is about an author, telling the story of his younger years, telling the story of his interview with the owner of the titular Grand Budapest Hotel, who tells the story of his younger years and growing up in the hotel. Yeah, can you see why I say that this movie is random? There is narration over almost all of the film, and the style changes from person to person. I wish I could explain it more simply, but I can’t. Believe me, I wish I could. There is no rhyme or reason behind half the events of the film. Things just happen, and you take it in, before being whisked away to watch something else happen. Some of the events don’t even last 10 minutes. It’s that random.
So, with a movie this strange and this hard to follow, you’re probably wondering why it isn’t a total mess. Well, the answer for that is – the characters. Oh my god, the characters MAKE this movie. This film would be a giant pile of convoluted shit, where it not for the roles in this movie. You have Ralph Fiennes playing M. Gustave, a manager of The Grand Budapest Hotel. He is just so lovably absurd. He isn’t an especially good person. In fact, he’s a smooth-talking manipulative schmuck. But he does it with such class and such strange style that he gains extraordinary amounts of likeability. Then there is Bill Murray as M. Ivan, who is also so enjoyably likeable, even though he has his own flaws. But this movie has a TON of people! All of them reasonably big names, and some of them for just ten minutes. You have Edward Norton and a military officer, for only ten minutes. You have Jeff Goldblum as the representative for a past owner of The Grand Budapest, and you hardly hear him speak. There is even Lea Seydoux, who gained her fame in Blue is the Warmest Color. Every single role is fantastic. I have only given a few of the characters. This movie wouldn’t be nearly as charming without them.
The other thing that makes this movie work is the pace. This movie is fast. Really, really fast. I honestly can’t see the comedy in this film working any other way. Lines are quick, scenes are quick, everything is fast. For as short as this film is, it doesn’t waste a second. Jokes are one-after-another, with almost all of them hitting their mark. Almost all of it comes back to Ralph Fiennes. I have wracked my brain, but I can’t think of a single actor who could do his role even close to the way he can. The way that he carries himself in this film leaves you wondering the entire time whether he knows about how he is or not. It’s almost like Alice in Wonderland. In fact, it’s that way with most of the characters. It’s like they don’t know how they really feel about something. They just do things, and that’s it.
Another thing that this movie has is visual humor. Subtle ways that they shoot things and split-second timing is just great. A lot of the story is told without a single word of spoken dialogue, including character development. Gustav’s assistant in-particular gets a lot of character across through his actions alone. In a world of comedic films that are pretty much just improv with scene transitions, it is nice to see a director who knows how to make visual comedy work. Though I’m not surprised. After all, this is Wes Anderson. He knows what he is doing.
So, what doesn’t work? Well, at times, the randomness of the film works against it. There are a few scenes which go absolutely nowhere, and while they are fun to watch, you do wonder what we gained from it. But for every scene that has absolutely nothing to do with anything, you get five more that are just great. It’s a trade-off. This movie takes a lot of risks with its randomness, and it’s good to see a director who is willing to do that.
All-in-all, this film is great. It is like a road trip movie, where you meet a bunch of fascinating characters and see a bunch of strange things. The characters are memorable, the pace is fun and the comedy is hilarious. This is one of those rare movies, where you don’t know how to feel, but you honestly don’t care.
9 out of 10