2 Stars – Shallow
Wes Anderson’s wacky interpretation of author Stefan Zweig’s lurid life and times of “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is filled with a cornucopia of stars. Ralph Fiennes leads the cast as M. Gustave, the full-of-himself concierge of an aging hotel that is a cultural institution of old Europe. Adding to the mayhem in a variety of comedic roles are a heavenly host of Hollywood luminaries including F. Murray Abraham, Adrien Brody, Willem Defoe, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Jude Law, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Jason Schwartzman, Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson, Owen Wilson, and 17 year old newcomer Tony Revolori as Zero Moustafa, the Lobby Boy.
Anderson paints a cartoonish picture of 1930’s Europe that is a delight to watch, even if the story is lacking in any positive foundation of values. The tale is told in retrospect from the memories of the aging owner of the hotel who turns out to be the former Lobby Boy who witnessed the screwy and often twisted motivations and behaviors of aging widows, lurid misfits, and the post-World War I disintegration of old European countries. Zero, the teenage Lobby Boy in his pill-box hat and penciled on mustache, was the chosen protégé of concierge Gustave who himself had once been the Lobby Boy. What Zero learned from his mentor was that elderly dowagers were to be flattered and serviced or handled in any way they desired in order to get them to become regular returning customers to the Grand Budapest Hotel.
M. Gustave’s favorite guest was the wealthy widow Madame D. (Tilda Swinton) who dies after one of her visits to the hotel. At the reading of her Last Will and Testament, the assembly of distant cousins, greedy daughters, and a devious and diabolical son, Demitri (Adrien Brody), everyone is surprised by the revelation that a famous painting owned by Madame D. known as “The Boy With An Apple” has been willed to M. Gustave, “her friend who gave her comfort in her later years”. Given that this painting is worth a great deal of money, the story unfolds around who will eventually end up with this prized piece of art. Needless to say, the heirs are not happy, and the question arises as to whether Madame D. died of natural causes or whether she was victim of a plot by her family to get their hands on her money.
Gustave’s schemes to claim his prized painting always involve Zero the Lobby Boy as an accomplice. In return for his loyalty, Gustave promises to will any gains he achieves from this strange circumstance to his young friend, thus setting the stage for Zero’s eventual ownership of the hotel and this retrospective tale of its life and times. The circus of events that this quest for the painting creates is akin to a Laurel and Hardy comedy. From car chases to downhill bobsled races, prison escapes, and beheadings, the mayhem continues until everyone but the Lobby Boy seems to have died.
There isn’t any real moral to this story other than the fact that a vapid life is the basis for others to enjoy a good laugh years later. In some respect, this is a form of the game “Clue” where you have to figure out “who done it.” Taken for what it is, this adult comedy is likely to become a cult favorite along the lines of “O Brother, Where Art Thou.” Enjoy it for what it is, but don’t expect much.
Discussion for those who have seen this film:
1. The change in the European class system after World War 1 is humorously described in this film. How do you believe socio-economic class continues today in your country?
2. The power of humor to both make us laugh and laugh at ourselves can be a healing balm. Do you believe this film heals or harms? Why do you answer as you do?
3. The serendipitous bounty that Gustave receives also puts him in danger. Do you think wealth and danger are related to one another in your own life?