Those who find the films of Wes Anderson off-puttingly mannered and artificial aren’t likely to be converted by “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” which plays out, even more than usual, in a peculiar world of its own.
If you admire Anderson at his best, though (“Rushmore,” “The Royal Tenenbaums,” “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” “Moonrise Kingdom”) there’s a good chance you’ll be delighted by this masterfully executed, highly stylized, occasionally perverse farce. Which takes his own personal brand of artifice to inspired new heights.
Set in the fictional former republic of Zubrowka, “The Grand Budapest” is related by a now-deceased legendary author (Tom Wilkinson), who flashes back to 1968 when his younger self (Jude Law) listens to the life story of the mysterious multi-millionaire Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham) in the declining grand hotel. Moustafa, now the hotel’s owner, casts back even further, to 1932, during the hotel’s glory days, when he was a lobby boy and the Budapest was run by his mentor, the legendary concierge Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes).
A holdover from a rapidly vanishing, more elegant era, Gustave is a model of impeccable manners and refinement, contrasted by a graphically vulgar vocabulary. And an eyebrow-raising habit of seducing the hotel’s richest, and most elderly, female clientele. That’s how he becomes involved with the Countess D. (an unrecognizably decrepit Tilda Swinton), whose murder propels him and the young Zero (Tony Revolori) into a battle for her immense fortune. An increasingly complicated struggle involving her evil son (Adrien Brody) and his homicidal henchman (Willem Dafoe), a priceless stolen painting, several more murders, a prison break and a frantic, climactic cross-country chase.
It’s very strange to think of Anderson as a crowd-pleaser. He has always followed his own eccentric path as a filmmaker and earned a sizable following as a result. But he comes as close as he’s likely to get with “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” which is not only a murder mystery at its core but more of a full-tilt comedy than his typically melancholy, quirk-driven musings. And it’s packed with stellar cameos from Owen Wilson, Bill Murray and Jason Schwatzman (Anderson regulars), Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Lea Seydoux and Ed Norton.
That’s not to say that Anderson is selling out with “Grand Budapest.” He is every bit as obsessed with visual composition as before, meaning every frame is a treat for the eyes. The actors’ performances are typically offbeat and affectless, as well. And there’s a distinct strain of sadness throughout the proceedings, particularly in the way an unspecified, Nazi-like fascist army appears and threatens Gustave’s way of life.
It’s quintessential Anderson, in other words, but also an unabashed entertainment. And that’s something to see.