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'The Grand Budapest Hotel' review: A fantastically vivid yet tame comedy

The Grand Budapest Hotel


"The Grand Budapest Hotel" began playing in Houston starting today, March 14.

Tony Revolori and Saoirse Ronan in "The Grand Budapest Hotel."
Tony Revolori and Saoirse Ronan in "The Grand Budapest Hotel."
The Grand Budapest Hotel 01
The original poster for "The Grand Budapest Hotel."
Fox Searchlight Pictures

There's always magic in the air and a spring in everyone's step whenever a Wes Anderson film is released in theaters. Perhaps it has something to do with living in Houston, Texas and Anderson being born there, but there's this unprecedented aura of anticipation and excitement around whatever Wes Anderson does. You find yourself reminiscing about his previous films like "Moonrise Kingdom," "The Royal Tenenbaums," or whichever film you love the most, but no matter what everyone has that one Wes Anderson film that they're partial to or love wholeheartedly. "The Grand Budapest Hotel" looks like yet another masterpiece from Anderson. Coincidentally though, "Moonrise Kingdom" was a solid effort from the Houston born filmmaker, but not quite as brilliant as expected. "The Grand Budapest Hotel" falls into the same category.

"The Grand Budapest Hotel" spans four different timelines (the present, 1985, 1968, and 1932) while the 1932 segment is divided into five separate parts. The comedic drama has the trademark Wes Anderson appearance and atmosphere of his previous efforts yet its visuals seem enhanced in comparison and pushed to the next level with extended one-take shots, intricate painted backgrounds, and what appears to be miniatures (perhaps a skill picked up from working on "Fantastic Mr. Fox"). Meanwhile, scenes such as Jopling (Willem Dafoe) standing on a doorstep in a dimly lit alley while it snows is simple yet magnificent thanks to Anderson's techniques.

Most of the film is dedicated to the younger version of the author of the story (played by Tom Wilkinson in 1985 and Jude Law in 1968) having dinner with Mr. Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham) as he tells the story of how he came to own The Grand Budapest Hotel and how influential the former owner M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) was to molding Moustafa into the man he is today. But to make matters confusing, it's that story Moustafa tells that resides in 1932 that is the driving point of the film. M. Gustave is the most enjoyable character, as well. His potent perfume, the way he's attracted to the wealthy, elderly, blonde, female occupants, his effeminate nature, and blunt yet sophisticated sense of humor makes Gustave richly entertaining whenever he graces the screen.

There really isn't a character identifiable to the audience in "The Grand Budapest Hotel," which is extremely disappointing to say about a Wes Anderson film. Zero (Tony Revolori) is the closest thing to a relatable character with his ongoing search of finding his way as a young man, but the character is "truly" dull at heart and really only seems to be memorable when he's scolding Gustave for hitting on his girlfriend Agatha (Saoirse Ronan). Zero's personality is mostly very solemn and comes off very bland.

It's also unfortunate to report that the film is the most amusing when its sifting through its rolodex of Wes Anderson film regulars in what is otherwise glorified cameos; Adrien Brody, Jason Schwartzman, Edward Norton, Owen Wilson, Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, and newcomers Jeff Goldblum and Harvey Keitel. While the film is humorous and wonderful to look at it feels empty like a painting without the finishing touches or a really detailed sketch that was never finished. It's as if "The Grand Budapest Hotel" solely relies on Anderson's trademarks without having enough depth or structure to make it memorable.

With its elaborate hotel setting, a wonderful use of its soft color palette, amusing atmosphere, and the film naturally being stuffed with all of Anderson's beloved quirks, "The Grand Budapest Hotel" is very appeasing to the eye and enjoyable on the surface. However it's lacking the genuine nature of "Rushmore" and isn't even as whimsical as "Fantastic Mr. Fox." Even with its time period well established and most characters donning really impressive mustaches, "The Grand Budapest Hotel" is a disappointing yet mildly satisfying Wes Anderson film.