Director Wes (The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou) Anderson has been called a genius on numerous occasions, but his most recent film offers up something completely different from the rest of his quite impressive resume. It walks the line, quite daringly, between absurdly clever plotting to absolutely ridiculous, for lack of a better word, stupidity. The story of The Grand Budapest Hotel, is completely asinine in every meaning of the word. The visuals are a mixture of amazing and laughable. It's characters are far too many and possibly even quirky for the sake of a joke that, though the audience will play along, will never really "get." In a sense, the ultimate con artist, played wonderfully by Ralph (The English Patient, Schindler's List) Fiennes, not only pulls off countless feats of unimaginable merit, but also tricks the audience into just "going with the flow" until it reaches its inevitable and altogether unsatisfying ending.
That being said, the acting is top notch, as per usual in Anderson's films. Joining Fiennes are a plethora of Hollywood A-listers as well as indie favorites, including: Jude Law, F. Murray Abraham, Tilda Swinton, Bill Murray, Adrien Brody, Matthieu Amalric, Harvey Keitel, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Edward Norton, Saorise Ronan, Tom Wilkinson, Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, and newcomer Tony Revolori. The script is clever, but also full of cliches and plot holes. The cinematography is hokey, but in a fun fairy tale type of way. The cast is massive and no one is given a moment to outshine the other members of the film, but that is not for lack of trying. There are some well-delivered lines and some stellar acting throughout, but there is never really any sense of urgency, excluding the most powerful scene in the film, where Anderson channels Alfred Hitchcock and throws in a dash of Brian DePalma, where the film turns from farcical fairy tale to a good old fashioned murder mystery. Props to Goldblum and Dafoe for their parts in the museum scene. It is a highlight of an otherwise forgettable film, but even it feels out of place, therefore simultaneously improving and lessening the film as a whole.
To be completely honest, this film is a mess. An enjoyable mess, but a convoluted and overly self-aware one nonetheless. At its very core, it cannot decide what it really wants to say. If it were a summer blockbuster, which it is not, critics would have despised it. But because it is an "artsy" film, they simply label it a work of a genius and praise its quirkiness. But quirk and wit and cleverness comes off as dull and a complete waste of time if it has no deeper meaning, which this film appears to be lacking. Great acting, silly jokes, and a sense of entertainment for the sake of entertainment keep this from being a great film. But Fiennes and company sure did try their best. Perhaps cutting the cast in half would have saved the film. This is by far the weakest film on Mr. Anderson's filmography. That being said, it is still a fun way to turn your brain off and take a surreal trip through idiocy and tongue-in-cheek nonsense.