Representing for first-half-of-the-20th-century world history in this year’s Academy Awards race is The Grand Budapest Hotel, the most Wes Andersoniest Wes Anderson film ever to Wes Anderson a Wes Anderson. Granted, I’ve only seen four of his other films, and this one’s probably a patchwork homage to nineteen different foreign films I’ve never heard of, but if nothing else it sums up all his past trailers and adds nice costuming flourishes and some charming fake backdrops.
Fun meta-trivia: this entry began as the fifth installment in my ongoing “MCC Home Video Scorecard” series, which is where I’ve lately been clustering my impressions of movies seen not in theaters. This time, I lost control and Budapest crowded out the other three movies I’d planned to include here, so now it has an entry all to itself. I saw this as part of my annual Oscarquest, and so far it’s been the cheapest of this year’s contenders to watch. It took some persistence to catch this affordably, as it’s no longer on Redbox and we don’t subscribe to the correct premium-cable channel, but three visits to the Family Video down the street finally paid off in the form of a $1.00 DVD rental. If you’d rather avoid the thrill of the case or if you hate money, you can also spend $13-$16 through the usual instant-streaming outlets, or Amazon has hard copies on sale for ten bucks (DVD and Blu-ray) as of this writing. Depends on whether or not less substance is worth more money to you, I guess.
Short version for the unfamiliar: In 1932 Budapest, a young bellboy (newcomer Tony Revolori) becomes the personal sidekick and sort-of friend to eccentric hotel owner Ralph Fiennes, who has an affair with an artificially elderly Tilda Swinton, whose death and subsequently scandalous will-‘n’-testament upsets her son (a brutish Adrien Brody), who sics a thuggish Willem Dafoe on anyone in their way, eventually arousing the restrained ire of genteel officer Edward Norton, whose pursuit of justice temporarily involves Jeff Goldblum and never quite catches up with a nervous Matthieu Amalric (Quantum of Solace). Everyone’s escapades, which involve a painting and an auction and sometimes jail, complicate matters between the bellboy and his barely-in-the-movie girlfriend Saoirse Ronan (Atonement, Hanna), to say nothing of odd shared moments with tattooed inmate Harvey Keitel or because-he-felt-like-it-this-week Bill Murray. And all of that is stuffed within a framing sequence in which the bellboy grows up to be F. Murray Abraham being interviewed by Jude Law, but in case you needed even more levels of narrative, someday Jude Law grows up to be Tom Wilkinson and framing-sequences his own framing sequence. By my count this feels like the fiftieth film I’ve seen with Tom Wilkinson in it and I think I have enough punches in my Tom Wilkinson frequent-viewer card to get my next Tom Wilkinson movie free.
…there is too much to explain, so let me sum up: Budapest is an art-heist caper and a comedy fascinated with itself and a wacky prison-escape flick and a vaguely historical look at eastern Europe before WWII made everything ruder and less picturesque.
Hey, look, it’s that one actor!: My first and only draft of the preceding section omitted small parts I’d recognized for Jason Schwartzman as yet another hotel accomplice, Owen Wilson because it’s a Wes Anderson film, distinctive character actor Bob Balaban, and — from the Department of “That Face! Where Have I Seen That Face?” — the tiniest of tiny parts for Neal Huff, a.k.a. Mayor Carcetti’s mostly ignored white adviser Steintorf from The Wire.
Meaning or EXPLOSIONS? I normally like to put something useful here, or, failing that, an acknowledgment of a dumb action film’s embracing of its inner lunkhead. This being a Wes Anderson film, I can’t tell if either applies. Possible Morals of the Story include:
* Be nice to your friends.
* Keep your word.
* Look sharp!
* Keep all objects evenly spaced from each other.
* Diction lessons are cool.
* Last wills and testaments are legal documents and deserve to be honored regardless of whether or not you agree with the instructions contained therein.
* Bill Murray can still be lured onto a film set if you make it worth his while. The most viable appeasement tactics include (1) being Wes Anderson, or (2) sending him a script that doesn’t contain the word “busters”.
Nitpicking? The animated (!) ski-chase sequence looked like the wrong kind of quaint. I also could’ve sworn my wife overheard an anachronism even though she wasn’t watching, but I forgot to write it down. Let’s all assume on this flimsy pretext that Anderson did something terrible and pillory him for it. In a civil tone, of course.
So did I like it or not? Every scene looks like a quaint postcard you can buy in the lobby. Every performance, including the ones with evil and/or cursing in them, are conducted with the same peculiar yet lightly captivating mannerisms. It’s jaunty, prim, silly, composed, spacious, claustrophobic, curious, off-putting, amusing, and bemused all at once. It’s largely what I’d expect from a Wes Anderson film, except regrettably cruder in parts for reasons beyond me.
How about those end credits? To answer the burning question that MCC is always happy to verify, even on home video: yes, there is a scene at the end of The Grand Budapest Hotel end credits. Sort of. Actually, it’s a lo-fi animation of what looks like a tiny dancing Cossack, who’s there to spruce up the last few minutes’ worth of drab scrolls with his feisty kicks and bounces. It’s good, honest work and I don’t intend to mock him for it.