'The Grand Budapest Hotel' Review: Wes Anderson Delights With Smart, Self-Referential Romp

Wes Anderson's movies have always felt like kindred spirits to one another. They're films made with similar visual styles and tonalities; stories that could very easily share one universe. His latest film, The Grand Budapest Hotel, feels that way too, but for the first time Anderson has made a movie about that very concept.

This film is well aware it is the 8th feature film by writer/director Wes Anderson, because here Anderson wants to explore the nature of storytelling itself. The passing down of stories; how stories tend to be similar; the real meaning of originality. He does this by framing the film in multiple layers, Inception style, until we get to the main narrative.

That narrative revolves around dapper 1932 European concierge Monsieur Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) and his trusty lobby boy Zero (Tony Revolori), who are involved in murder, sex, robbery, war, skiing, and so much additional wackiness you can't help but think Anderson is purposefully filling this film with tropes that look like his, but aren't. And that is most definitely the case. This is, again, a story about how we digest other stories. Anderson's approach is to make the most un-Wes Anderson movie ever, under the guise of it being the most-Wes Anderson movie ever. As a result he's made one of the best Wes Anderson movies.

On the surface, The Grand Budapest Hotel looks, feels and sounds like the rest of Anderson's work. It boasts bright colors, precise camera moves, immaculate production design, a lyrical score, and a cast second to none. Almost ever character is played by a famous actor; Tom Wilkinson, Jude Law, Jason Schwartzman and F. Murray Abraham show up just in the first few scenes.

Then the main story features the concierge at the titular hotel, M. Gustave, who falls in love with an old woman (Tilda Swinton) only to find out she's died, bequeathing him a priceless piece of art. Her family (which includes Adrien Brody and Willem Dafoe) isn't very happy about the situation, so with the help of his lawyer (Jeff Goldblum), a secret society (including Bill Murray and Bob Balaban) and his best friend Zero Gustave must evade her family as well as the long arm of the law (Edward Norton). There's more too it too, but you get the idea. This story is pretty wild.

That cast and the look of the film are pretty much where the Anderson-isms stop, however. To bolster his point about one story being the byproduct of others, everything that happens within the main narrative feels unlike Anderson's familiar concerns. There is sex, murder, deceitfulness, violence, gun fights, even "special effects." (Though, in Anderson's world, the effects are elaborate stop motion sequences.) Multiple scenes feature the incessant repetition of single phrases, poking fun at the notion of the catch phrase. The whole thing is a cavalcade of Hollywood action movie tropes seen through the eyes of Anderson.

The Grand Budapest Hotel tells us storytellers are bombarded with stories that aren't their own, but that a storyteller makes them their own. For example, when you become a filmmaker, you see more films, which means those films influence you; soon you aren't the filmmaker you were to begin with. Through what is essentially an action-packed Hollywood caper, Anderson leads us into an extremely interesting rabbit hole of discussion. He delightfully toys with standard elements of the caper picture in a hilarious, fast paced romp around war-time Europe.

Anderson's last film, Moonrise Kingdom, showed his growth as a filmmaker through a sensitive, heartfelt story of innocence. With The Grand Budapest Hotel, he continues to evolve, making a film that's entertaining and fun on the surface, but told in a way that almost questions its very existence. If all these tropes are so purposefully and obviously influenced by other films, why make the movie in the first place? Questions like that have implications you think about long after you leave the theater. Yet, all the while, you'll be chuckling at its absolutely perfect absurdity. The Grand Budapest Hotel is one of Anderson's best.

/Film rating: 9 out of 10

The Grand Budapest Hotel opens March 7.